Government urges councils to sell off high-value houses

Rooftops The move would reduce the housing waiting list, Policy Exchange said

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Councils should consider selling off their most expensive houses to build more cheap homes, the government says.

Downing Street backed a report by think tank Policy Exchange which said selling high value homes when they become vacant would raise £4.5bn a year.

That would be enough to build 80,000 to 170,000 social homes, the report said.

Labour said new homes were urgently needed but "driving out hard-working families on low wages from whole neighbourhoods" was not the answer.

In its Ending Expensive Social Tenancies report, Policy Exchange argues the move could create the largest social house building programme since the 1970s - giving the economy a kickstart.

Neil O'Brien, the think tank's director, told the BBC that social housing would still exist in very expensive areas under its proposal, but there would just be "less of it".

Start Quote

The government should not force them to arbitrarily sell-off social homes, breaking-up mixed communities”

End Quote Jack Dromey Shadow housing minister

"The truth is I don't believe anybody has the right to live in the most expensive parts of town.

"People do have a right to get housed, just not in the very most expensive areas," he said.

He also suggested that the overall number of people waiting for social housing, currently around 1.8 million, could be reduced by about 500,000 if the scheme was implemented.

'Failed policies'

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "This is something that councils can choose to do already.

"Councils should be looking for ways to use their social housing stock as efficiently as they can. The waiting list for social housing has increased a lot over passing years.

"They need to think about how they can use that social housing stock efficiently.

"If they can sell high-value housing to invest in more social housing and find more homes for more people, then that is certainly something they should look at."

But Labour said the coalition's "failed" polices were "making the housing crisis worse not better".

Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey said: "Councils and housing associations should make effective use of their housing stock but the government should not force them to arbitrarily sell off social homes, breaking up mixed communities and driving out hard-working families on low wages from whole neighbourhoods."

He said the government should use a bank bonus tax to fund 250,000 affordable homes and "put unemployed builders back to work" and boost the construction industry.

'Lucky family'

Expensive social housing - which Policy Exchange defines as housing worth more than the average property in each region - accounts for 21.8% of the total social housing stock in the UK, it says.

This equates to 816,000 properties - out of a total of 3.78 million - which the think tank says could raise up to £159bn if sold.

It says London alone has more than £70bn of expensive social housing.

About 3.5% of the total stock becomes vacant every year owing to people moving out or dying, the think tank said.

This meant the government could sell a total of 28,500 properties each year, raising £5.5bn a year. The figure would stand at £4.5bn after paying off the debt held against the stock, the report said.

Mr O'Brien argued that many hard-working people might want to live in a nicer area or in a bigger house but could not afford to.

"Rather than having one lucky family with a very expensive house, you would have two families perhaps desperately waiting for social housing, now having a roof over their heads.

"That seems fairer to me," he added.

Alex Morton, Policy Exchange: "One in five social houses is worth more than the regional average"

The think tank also said the move would be "extremely popular" with all sections of society, claiming 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.

'Dramatic erosion'

Critics say such a move would push the least well-off out of expensive streets, and into new ghettos.

The National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, says many towns would be "cleansed" of "hardworking people who can't afford to pay high prices".

Labour MP Karen Buck, who represents Westminster North, is concerned that lower income families, particularly in London, will be forced out of more affluent areas creating segregated communities of rich and poor.

Ms Buck also argued that the Labour government's £8bn social and affordable housing building programme was cut by 60% when the coalition came to power.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps - who is in favour of a sell-off - said the government had introduced "radical reforms" to "get Britain building" and to reduce 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".

Councils could now offer fixed-term tenancies to new tenants to make sure "social housing goes to those in greatest need", he added.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 972.

    @ my own comment @ 925.Joe now rated -6

    -6 but no reply... I guess people just don't have to have a reason for not liking something they don't want to hear.

    Truth is, if you add value to society you deserve to be rewarded in return for that... if you take from society and do not contribute - society will naturally feel aggrieved if you do this out of CHOICE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 971.

    The government pays civil servants' salaries from taxes paid by other taxpayers - regardless of what sector they work in. I pay taxes too. That's true of anyone employed in the public sector. Lots of civil servants do difficult jobs for salaries many people would turn their noses up at - fisheries protection in winter seas off Northern Scotland or the Army anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 970.

    An excellent idea.

    I bought a 40sq meter flat on the 11th floor of a an ex local high rise. Lenders refuse finance on them now, if you want to buy one you will pay about £250,000. The building is mostly populated by people that have been here for years without ever learning English and use these as second homes financed by taxpayers.

    Thats the reality of central London coucil buildings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 969.

    Should we taking a more isolationist approach in our UK policy making, it always seems easier to progress from a position of strength, if we invested in our own country, welfare and businesses (British trains by British coach builders) etc.
    Then when we have improved internally we can then afford to make grandiose foreign policy commitments.
    The German economy is strong for a reason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 968.

    If the Government were to implement this idea, which many have pointed out that in principle, selling one house to build two is sensible, but this Government isn't sensible, past history suggests, so you can only guess where that £179 billion will go, mine is the banks. Ergo this is an extremely bad idea, and now the cats out of the bag...

  • rate this

    Comment number 967.

    There should be no social housing, just socail appartments build in large complexes on un-used industrical estates. As long as the rooms are comfortable with natuarl light and warm in winter whats the issue.

    The problem when you start giving people that dont wat to work nice swanky houses for free what incentive do they have to get of their behinds and get a job.....absolutely none!

  • Comment number 966.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 965.

    makes sense. also why are there british people living on the streets while we have eu nationals and other immigrants in council houses?

  • rate this

    Comment number 964.

    You have to wonder how many of these posts would have a different tone if this was proposed by a left wing think tank.
    -It would be a Dim Wit idea then too
    Normally policy ideas from left leaning think tanks,whether you like the idea or not are intended from the benefit of large sections of the population in the UK not simply designed to get a few more Tory Bums on Seats in London Marginals

  • rate this

    Comment number 963.

    Sam @ 953

    Right on the money Sam. Rent at the going rate and use the INCOME to fund additional builds.

    Any other couse of action is simpy stupid.

    Unless of couse you happen to be a minister or his goldfish in search of a nice bargain property in one of he so-called up-market sell-off areas ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 962.


    You have to wonder how many of these posts would have a different tone if this was proposed by a left wing think tank."

    It is perfectly possible to be of any political flavour yet still have a care for ones fellow citizens. Not towing the governments line does not mean you have to be 100% ideologically opposite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 961.


    It is totally irrelavant who suggested it, anyone with a basic grasp of economics knows it is nonsense. It is impossible to debate properly because it boils down to sections of our greedy selfish society getting all angry and bent out of shape believing someone is getting something for nothing, just as the Tories intended.

  • rate this

    Comment number 960.

    Blame popular culture/media for mislabelling "Conspiracy Hypothesis'". The principle of my explanation still holds.

    To believe this scheme could be abused for profit isn't much of a stretch.

    JFK was a conspiracy, Bilderberg is fact, NWO is a description of travel not a CT, C/C is neither CT nor fact, and the rest are crud used to marginlise the CT investigations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 959.

    What housing crisis anyway? There are 700,000 vacant properties in the UK, therefore this is nothing more than social cleansing. To prove a point, this only relates to council tenants. Therefore, to even things up, I propose that every homeowner fill their vacant rooms with homeless people. What do you mean you don't like it? Why, then, do you expect council tenants to like this stupid proposal?

  • rate this

    Comment number 958.

    @934.A Realist

    But of course, the cheats & chancers are to blame. Let me enlighten you to a little fact. The cheats & chancers of the benefit system account for less than 0.01%.
    But don’t let facts get in the way of your prejudices.


    If we were all as fearful as you, no-one would get a chance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 957.

    I have changed my mind and decided to "go with the flow".
    Even though I own my own home - I'm considering applying for social housing, unemployment benefit and maternity leave. This will definitely surprise my girlfriend, as I'm a middle aged bloke. I'm sure there must now be a medical procedure that will permit me to become "an unmarried mother". I feel the need to ponce of you all, so pay up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 956.

    A few more moves like this and we could see demonstrations on the streets. Time then to allow G4$ to use Tazers and batons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 955.

    The purpose of council housing is to put roofs over people's heads. Selling one property that is overpriced entirely due to its location and providing two others in cheaper places is entirely sensible. It's hard to argue against the concept, though some people will jump through hoops trying to because of their attitude of entitlement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 954.

    In London today, in a "desirable" area like Notting Hill or St. John's wood, a fairly modest house will sell for more than £1 million. London is full of ex-industrial sites that can be compulsory purchased and built upon. A ratio of 10 to 1 in perfectly habitable properties built can be achieved for each "superhouse" sold, if the land is approved for social housing at no profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 953.

    Why not keep the good housing stock, rent it out at the going rate in expensive areas, and plough the money back into more social housing stock in cheaper areas. This would retain valuable assets and gain more.


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