Future Housing Review has written an open letter to Gavin Barwell MP, urging a public consultation before roll-out of VRTB.




On 10 December 2018 Future Housing Review sent open letters to Kate Henderson, Chief Executive, National Housing Federation and to Gavin Smart, Deputy Chief Executive Chartered Institute of Housing.

You can download the letters here:

How did the right to buy extension go so wrong so quickly?

How did the right to buy extension go so wrong so quickly?

OK so it was an ill-conceived electoral ploy based on old-fashioned Tory idealogy shaped by Cameron and friends. The ‘voluntary agreement’ to put it in place was no more than an offer by the National Housing Federation in general terms that was ‘accepted’ by Government – unbelievably – without Government bothering with a formal written agreement. Not so much policy on the back of an envelope – more like something out of ‘Carry on Policy Making’.

I objected at the time to the way in which the deal was foisted on associations by the National Housing Federation and there was initially considerable resentment in the sector generally. However, as the initial five pilots got started it seemed that people were learning to live with it. Only the small and rural associations continued to be concerned at the implications of the policy.

The pilots were working with a 10-year tenancy eligibility requirement – not the 3-year period required under statutory right to buy. Who decided that? The upshot (according to Inside Housing’s analysis) was that only 1.6% of eligible tenants got as far as making a formal application to buy their homes in the pilot areas. Hardly a resounding success, but certainly an early indication that, while the policy was successful in the 1980s, times have changed.

So we get to the Autumn statement, and out of nowhere the Government unilaterally varies the ‘agreement’ by announcing a regional and not a national roll-out. Is this change in tack an indication that the new Government has misgivings about the policy, or simply that it wants to proceed cautiously? Even Gavin Barwell’s business partner, the National Housing Federation, didn’t expect that one.

In the course of my work I have been struck by the comments of several tenants who voted for this policy and, not surprisingly, feel completely let down. If you don’t live in the selected region, you’re not going to get a chance to buy for many years.

The other thing that struck me from the beginning, was that this scheme has been misnamed. It’s not a right to buy. How can it be when there is a wide discretion for associations to decide not to sell? When the guidelines are finally published, there will no doubt be much debate as to these discretions, but it will probably boil down to this: large associations will implement the policy and use the discretion sparingly, but many of the small and rural associations will fight tooth and nail not to sell their stock. Calling it a right to buy simply creates expectations that neither the National Housing Federation nor its members can possibly live up to.

By the way, please don’t mention ‘portability’ – that concept is unknown in the existing ‘Right to Buy’ scheme and simply cannot be made to work without complex legislation.

On 2ndDecember an open letter was sent by Future Housing Review to Mr Barwell setting out reasons why it would be appropriate to conduct a formal written consultation on the emerging policy. The letter was signed by half a dozen people who work and campaign in the sector and has since been endorsed by two more. (You can see the letter at www.futurehousing.org.)

Although in many respects I applaud the more realistic approach towards social housing taken by this Government, I feel they are in danger of getting this policy spectacularly wrong.

So why doesn’t Government simply say there is a lack of demand for the present scheme and come up with an alternative? There is a simple alternative: discretionary sales by associations. No need for complicated guidelines, pilots or sounding boards. Just invite tenants who have been in their home for three years to apply to their landlord to buy. If the association wants to sell and the tenant is in a position to buy, the association applies to Mr Barwell for a grant equivalent to the discount that would have been available under statutory right to buy. A discretionary grant can then made to the tenant, depending on the tenant’s financial and other circumstances. There might be provisions as to repayment of the grant where the property is sold within a certain time and also an undertaking by the association to use receipts to replace stock. Interestingly, the National Housing Federation might take the initiative back and make an amended offer to Government …

I live in hope that Mr Barwell will eventually agree to a public consultation, because there’s so much evidently wrong about this policy and so many alternatives (of which discretionary sales is only one) that would be easier and fairer all round.


Nigel Turner


Director, Future Housing Review.


1st January 2017








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