Policy Exchange Think Tank Tells Councils to Sell off Best Homes

In a report labelled ‘Ending Expensive Social Tenancies’, the Policy Exchange think tank has claimed that a move to sell off Britain’s most expensive social housing could create the largest social housing building programme since the 1970s, giving the economy a much needed kick start.

The comments are founded on the fact that 21.8% of the total housing stock in the UK falls into Policy Exchange’s definition of ‘expensive social housing’ – ie. that which is of a value greater than the average property in the region. London, for example, is estimated to have over £70bn worth of expensive social housing.

That 21.8% equates to 816,000 properties (of a 3.78m total) which projections indicate could raise up to £159bn in funds if sold. Of course, they cannot all be sold at once, but the natural movement of tenants means that 3.5% of the total stock (132,300) becomes vacant each year.

As a consequence, the Government could sell a total of 28,500 expensive social housing properties each year, accruing around £5.5bn a year – or £4.5bn after the relevant debts are settled.

The report’s author, Alex Morton, summed up the philosophy behind the proposals:

“Expensive social housing is costly, unpopular and unfair. That is why almost everybody rejects it.

“Social housing tenants deserve a roof over their heads – but not one better than most people can afford, particularly as expensive social housing means less social housing and so longer waiting lists for most people in need.”

The report has added that 73% of people, including social tenants, think people should not be given council houses worth more than the average property in a local authority and the plans have had considerable support from those who believe social housing should be adequate, but not luxurious.

The real selling point of the proposals, however, is that the capital raised from selling these properties would be sufficient to build 80,000 to 170,000 new social homes per year, providing potentially thousands of building jobs and instigating a multiplier effect which could aid our ailing economy.

The Housing Minister at the time, Grant Shapps* – who is reputedly in favour of a sell-off – commented that the government had also introduced radical reforms to “get Britain building” and reduce the social housing waiting lists.

They included investing £19.5bn public and private funding into an affordable housing programme “set to exceed expectations and deliver up to 170,000 homes”.

Notable opposition, however, has come from the National Housing Federation, which has claimed that many towns would be “cleansed” of “hardworking people who can’t afford to pay high prices”, and the plans could face a bumpy ride to fruition.

*In the recent Cabinet reshuffle, Grant Shapps was made Tory Party Chairman. The new Housing Minister is Mark Prisk, who had been Construction Minister. We cannot confirm whether a change of policy will accompany the change of minister.

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