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 1012.

    There are some big houses near me in Surrey that could be knocked down to make way for social housing. I'm sure Cameron's chums could house a few hundred thousand people, on their inherited land.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1011.

    why not sack all our mp's, we have 850 of them all being paid lots of cash, claiming loads in expenses, flipping their mortgages which we paid for then nicking the profit? then they have the cheek to tell those less fortunate than themselves that they cant live in that area, excuse me but just who do these people think they are, lets ALL stop paying our council tax they cant put us all in prison?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1010.

    1008 my heart bleeds for you. You sound like an old toad!

  • Comment number 1009.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1008.

    Its little wonder looking at these posts on here glorifying theft from the workers and demanding more & more that Atlas Shrugged !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1007.

    984. The political establishment/elite in Britain ARE heartless. They will be on thier death bed one day however. Politics in Britain represent the Rich or those who have wealth. Anything other is VERBOTEN.

    The financial City is our Ancient Rome....or even a new Babylon.

    The poor are the new Jews. Stigmatised but not persecuted....Yet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1006.

    999.A Realist

    Have you thought about having a word with the dustman or inland revenue?

    Some people get very angry about tax evasion but don't tell the people who they should be most angry with!!

    If there was more of a social stigma in claiming benefits etc whilst working many wouldn't, if every pint they buy on the dole is spent on their lonesome!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1005.

    I agree benefit/support should be based on need... and if it was universal benefits would disappear overnight. Also we'd cease to have a system that takes money from people unable to buy or rent and gives it to people who could, but think they have a right to live in one of the most expensive postcodes in the world?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1004.

    Whether the properties are in a rich or a poor area, they are still Social Housing stock and are not for sale. When the properties in the "rich" areas were first aquired by a council they may not have been rich. It is just a way of lining the pockets of the rich.

    There are also plenty of empty properties that could be compulsory purchased by local councils, done up and used as Social Housing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1003.

    "978.A Realist
    I've observed, at first hand, many people "playing the system". They deliberately, with intent & forethought, defraud the taxpayer. "

    Me too. Oh, you weren't referring to the morally repugnant activity of tax avoision which costs the country so dear?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1002.

    He said "Gosh, what piffling wiff waff these languescent tardigrade oiks are..." and then started rambling in Latin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1001.

    It is London V’ the Rest of the UK agian, just as with the recent issue over forcing London’s poor out of by making them offers of social housing 100’s of miles away; e.g. up north and so on. No one asked the rest of the country if we want London’s poor in the first place, this is just another way to force them on the rest of the already hard up country , NO NO London, you've been warned

  • rate this

    Comment number 1000.

    I read these comments and it's clear that Owen Jones ("Chavs - The Demonisation Of The Working Class") is right. We have been sold a stereotype of the urban poor that reads
    "social housing = benefits claimant = work shy = scrounger"
    This misses the point that most benefits claimants are actually in work. As are most of those in "social housing".

    Many work hard for long hours on minimum wage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 999.

    If we wern't being defrauded by so many Benefit Cheats and tax dogers, there would be enough money to subsidise low cost housing. How many city centre social housing recipiants are renting out their property to private tenants? Loads. My dustman owns a large holiday home in Spain! He works at least two jobs - and pays his taxes. Does he therefore need a Council house simply because he's a dustman?

  • rate this

    Comment number 998.


    Short answer: Ouch :-)
    Long answer: No, not heartless. I said bare necessities, which includes food / house / heat / water.

    If your circumstances dictate that you are unable to work, or unable to find work - in a modern society provisions should be made.

    Those provisions however, should not be in excess of those someone working (min wage) is able to provide for themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 997.

    @987 Follyist... Benefit / support being based on need is all very well and good, but when that "need" for a big house comes from not working yet having child after child with no means of providing larger accommodation through hard work and, oh, I don't know... EARNING it yourself, is when people start to question the entitlement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 996.

    Good Idea providing the councils us the money for new buildings and not to supplement the council taxes or spend any of the money and interest on other projects

  • rate this

    Comment number 995.

    how much will we get for no10? no, it is don't do as we do, it is do as we say.the animal farm of the old etonians."some are more equal than others"they are busy these days preparing the brave new world of the future,the new order to last for a thousand yrs,everything and everyone will have it's place in the grand scheme of your class and dwelling place according to your allocation&Pcode

  • rate this

    Comment number 994.

    Housing issues, Dame Shirley Porter, Westminster Council, Tory controlled, fraud and scandal, convictions, £40million
    New policy. Support of Housing minister. Are we in for a repeat?

  • rate this

    Comment number 993.

    I live in a Peabody Trust flat in central London and am proud of it. Saving for a deposit so I can afford a big fat mortgage. I work full time as a nurse and have seen the benefits of a mixed socio-economic background for neighbourhoods. Britain should be proud of attempting to alleviate ghettos you see in other cities. This policy stinks.


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