Update: progress of the bill to abolish right to buy in Wales
Matthew Kennedy reports on CIH Cymru position and the progress of the bill to abolish the right to buy in Wales, following an evidence session that CIH Cymru attended.
On the day CIH Cymru provided evidence to the Equalities, Local Government and Communities Committee at the National Assembly for Wales on the Abolition of the Right to Buy (RTB) and Associated Rights, it’s timely to remind ourselves on why this policy change is sorely needed.
Let’s start off by saying, it isn’t the answer to the housing crisis in Wales, but it is an important step forward to ensuring the supply of social housing is maintained and boosted, without further loss of homes. Despite the policy having boosted rates of homeownership, that alone doesn’t tell the complete story. The Welsh Government’s own research suggests that around 4,500 properties purchased under the RTB have now been returned into the private rented sector, where additional costs to the public purse through housing benefit is around £4.4 million per year.
The uptake in recent years has not been anywhere near the level experienced in previous periods where spikes in applications largely came when the level of discount was reduced, most recently in 2003/04. (7,000 homes were sold during this year). Some local authorities have successfully applied to suspend the RTB locally, based on there being an acute housing need. But that being said, there has been a steady increase in applications in recent times.
We also know from our discussion with members that the RTB has left a legacy of challenges that includes issues involving housing maintenance and the upkeep of homes (particularly in blocks of flats under leaseholder arrangements) and in addressing anti-social behaviour issues where mixed communities provide a more complicated landscape for landlords where individuals do not come under the remit of a tenancy agreement.
Whilst we believe abolition is the right way to go, that doesn’t negate the fact that housing professionals will face challenges in managing the 1 year lead-in period to its full abolition in Wales. Whilst the spike will vary from area to area and unless a change is brought in, it’ll only potentially be seen in areas where the RTB is not currently suspended. Professionals will need to consider what resources will be required to deal with additional queries, including legal advice and assistance in some instances.
The bill also states that qualifying landlords will need to communicate the information published by Ministers within two months of the bill coming into force, or within one month of the information being produced – whichever comes first. With this in mind it’ll be important for housing professionals to give thought to the strategy through which this information will be publicised. The sector has developed considerable expertise in engaging changes on legislative changes impacting tenants – this expertise and utilising good practice will once again be required.
Abolition of the RTB in Wales signifies an important policy change to protect the supply of high quality social housing. But there can be no distracting from the fact that boosting the supply of homes must continue to be the focus and priority. Elements that have far more bearing on boosting supply would be things like the availability of land, planning department capacity and construction skills availability.
Therefore whilst we can welcome the policy intention of this bill, we must keep our eye on the ball when it comes to the longer term ability of the sector to boost the supply of high quality homes that are affordable to heat and maintain.