28 February 2015

“Every additional home that is sold will be replaced by a new affordable home on a one-to-one basis” Grant SHAPPS, when housing minister

Last September I wrote a post about the right-to-buy council/social houses and the importance of replacing those sold: Replacing lost homes: how Cornwall MPs voted.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, presented an admirable, sensible, rational, and practical amendment to the Deregulation bill, a proposal to “require the minister to produce a plan to replace affordable homes lost in England as a result of Right to Buy, review the effectiveness of current policy, and carry out an assessment of changes since 2012 before making further policy changes” (Hansard 23 June 2014 column 116, 125). Extraordinarily, five Cornwall MPs voted against the proposal and no vote is recorded for Stephen Gilbert.

The Tory Libdem promise
I am returning to this topic because the latest figures for sold and replaced from the Department for communities and local government (DCLG) are alarming. The Tory Libdem government revamped the purchase discounts for tenants in April 2012. It assured that every additional home sold would be replaced on a one-to-one basis using the receipts from the right-to-buy sales.

What happened
The latest figures show that 26 750 houses have been sold in England under right to buy between April 2012 and December 2014 (DCLG Live Table 692: see link at the foot of the post).

In that time 2712 additional replacement homes have been started, approximately one for ten sold (Live Table 693).

There is of course an inherent time lag between sale and starting a replacement build using the receipts from right-to-buy. However, the gap between the figures is much too large for natural drag; the replacement program isn’t working and the stock of public housing is being reduced at a time when house prices on the open market mean many people need an affordable house to rent or buy. The DCLG should look at Lucas’s dismissed amendment and urgently scrutinise the program and tell us what it will do with effect to stop the depletion of the stock of public housing. Of course, I am assuming it meant its one-for-one promise and wishes to maintain and increase the affordable stock. Those in Cornwall, including MPs, who make much about affordable housing should press the DCLG for a practical response.

Pantomime in Cornwall
On a side note, a pantomime in Cornwall. Initially Cornwall Council told the DCLG that since April 2012 the county had started nearly 1100 additional replacement homes using by right-to-buy receipts; now we learn the actual number of replacements started April 2012-December 2014 is 15 (DCLG Live Table 693, Inside Housing 25 February 2015, Independent 27 February 2015. It has sold 113 through right-to-buy in the period (DCLG Live Table 691). Note that the replacements are starts and acquisitions, unseparated in the data.

Cornwall wasn’t the only council to make a mistake and lead the DCLG to put out incorrect figures, though it was way in front of the pack. Apparently a major cause was some councils adding together houses built using by right-to-buy receipts and the Homes and Communities Agency or Greater London Authority funds. In a note at the foot of its Live Table 693 explaining the several causes of the muddle the DCLG says grimly, “It is possible that interpretation of starts and acquisitions by local authorities may still not be uniform.” The DCLG should ask for information in a way that makes misinterpretation ordinarily impossible.

Oh, and there were 29 554 households on the Cornwall Council imperfect housing waiting list on 24 November 2014 (council answer 25 November 2014 to someone’s FOI request).

The DCLG figures are in these spreadsheets.

Have confidence in your masters.