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Scotland stops Right to Buy policy

Words: Laura Edgar
Housing / iStock_000074406885

Interested parties have welcomed the end of the Right to Buy scheme in Scotland, bemoaning the current crisis in supply and welcoming the fact that social landlords will now be able to plan for the longer term.

In 2014, MSPs voted to end the Right to Buy scheme, which was first introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. Since then, nearly 500,000 council and housing association homes have been sold under the policy, bought by tenants at discounted rates. The policy, blamed for a shortage of housing in the social rented sector, ended on 31 July, 2016.

The effect on housing stock


While the scheme may have benefitted a small number of individuals, Zhan McIntyre, policy lead, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said it has been at the “expense of the public good”.

“It has contributed to intergenerational inequality in relation to access to affordable, quality housing,” she told The Planner.

In a country of just under 2.5 million households, Kate Houghton, policy and practice officer, RTPI Scotland, said, the number of properties sold under Right to Buy is “clearly a significant proportion of the national housing stock”.

As the housing crisis “deepens,” consensus is increasing, Houghton continued, that there should be a range of housing options available to suits people’s differing needs and circumstances – short and long term rent in the private, public and third sectors, and home ownership.

“The Right to Buy has significantly narrowed these housing options.”

The effect of ending the scheme on housing in Scotland


The end of Right to Buy in Scotland should, according to Annie Mauger, executive director for the devolved nations at the Chartered Institute of Housing, enable housing providers to ensure that there are more “safe and secure homes for more people who desperately need them”.

Many homes sold under Right to Buy are now part of the private rented sector, said Mauger. No longer lived in by the tenants who bought them, they are instead rented out for far more than social rent.

As a result, said Mauger, “we now have a crisis in supply”.

Tony Cain, policy manager at Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers (ALACHO), said social landlords now plan longer term, with more certainty about stock numbers, income and investment requirements.

“Ending the Right to Buy is the last part of a significantly revised approach to asset management by public sector landlords that will support more effective business planning, more consistent investment and a return to growth in the number of social rented homes if not necessarily the proportion of the stock in the sector,” Cain explained.

What should the Scottish Government do to replace social housing stock and increase overall delivery of affordable housing?


In an election pledge, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon committed to building 50,000 affordable homes in Scotland. The aim is to achieve this over the current parliament. 

Maugher said that building 10,000 affordable homes a year is a “huge undertaking”, but that the Scottish Government is “creating the right environment” to deliver its commitment with an “increased subsidy and reform of planning”.

“They need to make this target a mission and encourage the investment to build more affordable homes."

Houghton said the Scottish Government should make sure that the planning system is “poised to deliver”. It needs to ensure that planning departments have the resources and skills they need to produce and then see through to realisation, “creative and visionary development plans”.

She said that to provide the money for social housing, the Scottish Government should “explore how to capture he uplift that happens when land is earmarked for residential development and then use this to fund social housing as part of a mixed tenure developments”.

Cain explained that the Scottish Government’s commitment to support the delivery of 35,000 new social rented homes over the term of this parliament has to be regarded "as a positive start”.

However, too much of a focus on new build would mean the proportion of the overall stock in the social sector continuing to decline.

“What we really need is a clearer commitment to the growth of social renting as a percentage of all homes," said Cain. This will require a focus on buying homes on the second hand market. And not just former council homes sold under the right to buy. There is, it seems to me, a need to extend the offer of good quality, well managed and well maintained social rented homes into those many communities where social housing has never existed”

The next steps


Houghton explained that RTPI Scotland hopes the end of Right to Buy will signal a new beginning for “collaboration between the public and private sectors using a variety of mechanisms to deliver a wide range of housing that meets people’s diverse needs”.

Ending the Right to Buy is, said Cain, an “essential step” in developing a long term housing strategy that focuses on “stability, affordability, quality and choice”.

This was, however, “not sufficient in itself”.

“Current policy on supply is still too focused on new build. Overall there is no clear strategic approach to what a stable and well-functioning housing market looks like and tenure, in particular the central focus on owner occupation as the “natural” tenure of choice, still plays too much of a role in policy making.”

He added that in social housing “we need to have another think about access, how we allocate houses and how we focus new supply relative to demand expressed through our waiting lists”.

McIntyre said that Scotland has a chance to adopt a housing policy that is focused on the supply of well-designed, energy efficient, social rented home that are “truly affordable” to people on low incomes.

“We have in Scotland the best opportunity in a generation to increase the supply of affordable homes to meet existing and future housing need.”

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