Tories to extend ‘Right to Buy’

Published: Tuesday 14th April 2015 by The News Editor

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A Conservative government would grant 1.3 million housing association tenants the right to buy their homes, David Cameron has announced.

The extension of the Right to Buy scheme is a centrepiece of the Conservative manifesto for the May 7 General Election, being launched by the Prime Minister with an audacious claim that the Tories, rather than Labour, are “the party of working people”.

Mr Cameron will say the manifesto offers voters “security at every stage of your life”, with help for those looking for training or a job, trying to buy a home, raising a family or relying on childcare and the NHS.

After criticism of the negative tone of early stages of the Conservative campaign, Mr Cameron will strike a more positive note by saying Tories offer “a brighter future for your family and for you”.

The Tory leader was buoyed by an ICM poll in The Guardian which gave Conservatives a six-point lead on 39% to Labour’s 33% – enough to put an absolute majority within grasp. But a second poll, for former Tory treasurer Lord Ashcroft, had the two parties neck-and-neck on 33%.

The extension of Right to Buy represents an effort to revive the Tory dream of a property-owning democracy, after years in which the proportion of home-owners declined for the first time in a century and increasing numbers of young adults – often described as “Generation Rent” – found themselves priced out of the market.

Tories will hope the scheme will deliver a similar boost to Mr Cameron’s chances as the original Right to Buy, which helped sweep Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979.

It would be funded by requiring councils to sell off the most expensive social housing when it becomes vacant, replacing it on a one-to-one basis with more affordable property, the Conservative leader said.

Mr Cameron will say the policy is designed to give a new generation “the security of a home of their own, s o this generation of Conservatives can proudly say it: the dream of a property-owning democracy is alive – and we will fulfil it.”

But the proposal was branded “deeply unfair” by housing associations, with industry body the National Housing Federation warning it would involve handing over £5.8 billion of taxpayers’ money – much of it paid by people stuck in private rentals or unable to move out of their parents’ homes – as “gifts” worth up to £100,000 each to tenants in some of the country’s most secure and affordable social housing.

And Labour housing spokeswoman Emma Reynolds dismissed it as ” yet another uncosted, unfunded and unbelievable announcement” .

She said: “Having exhausted the magic money tree, the Tories now want people to believe that they can magic up billions of pounds a year from selling off a few council homes.

“Last year that raised just over £100 million, while this policy costs £4.5 billion a year.

“Labour will help people own their own home, that’s why we support Right to Buy. But in the 21st Century that means building homes and not forgetting the vast majority of people that want to buy their own home but currently rent privately or live with their parents.”

Mr Cameron will also unveil plans for a £1 billion Brownfield Regeneration Fund to build 400,000 new homes on previously-developed land, which aides said could “radically increase the supply of new housing while protecting the Green Belt”.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrats unveiled their own plan to build 300,000 new homes a year, including at least 10 new garden cities in England.

Party spokesman Lord Paddick said the Tory scheme would result in “longer waiting lists for homes and fewer social houses”, doing nothing to tackle the country’s affordable housing needs and benefiting only a “lucky few”.

He described the manifesto as a “smokescreen” to hide Tory plans to cut £12 billion from welfare, which Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg last night made a red line in any post-election coalition negotiations, telling BBC1’s The Leader Interviews that he “wouldn’t accept” a renewed partnership with Tories if they insisted on pushing ahead with them.

The existing Right to Buy allows local authority tenants to buy houses and flats from councils at a discount of as much as 70% – up to a maximum of £102,700 in London and £77,000 across the rest of England.

Conservatives would extend the scheme to 500,000 housing association tenants who currently have no purchase rights and 800,000 who qualify only for much less generous discounts of £16,000 or less.

Local councils will be required to sell off their most expensive properties as they become vacant, in order to raise an estimated £4.5 billion a year to fund the scheme.

Some 15,000 houses and flats are expected to become available in this way each year, but Tories stressed that no one will be forced out of their home.

Mr Cameron will say the heart of the Tory manifesto is “a simple proposition – we are the party of working people, offering you security at every stage of your life”.

And he will add: “My message to Britain is this: we have come this far together. Let’s not waste the past five years. Now is not a time to put it all at risk, but to build on the progress we have made.

“If you want a more secure Britain, if you want a brighter future for your family and for you, then together, let’s build on what we’ve done and see this through.”

NHF director of policy Ruth Davison said the extension of Right to Buy to housing association properties was “the wrong solution to our housing crisis”.

She said: “A very conservative estimate of this policy puts the cost to the taxpayer of at least £5.8 billion.

“Following 40 years of successive governments’ failure to build the homes the country needs, soaring rents and house prices and the biggest baby boom since the 1950s, ensuring that there enough homes today and tomorrow must be our nation’s top priority.”

Published: Tuesday 14th April 2015 by The News Editor

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