MSPs scrap social housing tenants' 'right-to-buy' in Scotland

Council flats Almost half a million homes have been sold under the right to buy scheme

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The right of council and social housing tenants to buy their homes at a discounted rate is to be abolished in Scotland after MSPs backed scrapping the measure.

The Conservatives made a last-ditch attempt to block the move at Holyrood.

But MSPs voted by 103 votes to 12 against the Tory amendment to the Housing (Scotland) Bill.

Tenants will now have two years to apply to buy their homes before the right is scrapped in 2016.

The deadline for the final council house sale was shortened from three years to two years by Housing Minister Margaret Burgess.

From Democracy Live: Housing Minister Margaret Burgess leads the final debate on the Housing Bill

She said two years was enough time for tenants to assess their options without being rushed into a purchase.

Ms Burgess rejected Labour calls for the deadline to be shortened to one year to further protect existing council house stocks from what Tories called "a feeding frenzy" of last minute purchases that may lose more houses than it saves.

The right-to-buy was brought in across the UK by Margaret Thatcher's government in 1980, with 455,000 tenants buying their homes in Scotland under the system.

End of an era but not the debate

Holyrood's decision to end the right-to-buy in Scotland will signal the end of an era in housing policy.

Since 1980, it has been possible for council tenants to buy their homes at discounted rates.

By last year, 455,000 Scottish properties had been sold under the scheme.

It was one of the most popular policies pursued by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, although it failed to shore up popular support for her party in Scotland.

The right-to-buy substantially increased home ownership but it also contributed to an acute shortage of social housing.

The Scottish government has been phasing out the right and will end it in 2016 to stop council houses and some former council houses being lost to the rental market.

This policy is in marked contrast to the approach being taken by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in England.

There, the maximum discount is being increased to £75,000 (and £100,000 in London) and the qualifying period reduced from five to three years to encourage more tenants to become home owners.

The UK government says the proceeds from sales will be invested in new affordable housing.

Twenty-six councils and about 183 registered social landlords (RSLs) manage more than 600,000 properties in the social housing sector.

However, there are more than 180,000 households on local authority housing lists across Scotland and only about 54,600 social housing properties became available to let last year.

Right-to-buy has driven-up home ownership in Scotland. But it has also contributed to an acute shortage of social housing.

That is why the Scottish government said it wanted to end the right in 2016.

The housing minister told Holyrood: "With 185,000 people on waiting lists for council and housing association houses, we can no longer afford to see the social sector lose out on badly needed homes."

Ms Burgess added: "By ending right-to-buy in two years we will protect up to 15,500 social houses from sale over a 10-year period and safeguard social housing stock for future generations."

'Political dogma'

But the Tories have said ministers are kicking the housing ladder away from those on modest incomes who aspire to home ownership.

Housing spokesman Alex Johnstone said: "This move by the SNP is motivated by nothing more than political dogma and is nothing to do with protecting the housing stock.

"Right-to-buy has been the most effective single measure to enable a whole generation on modest incomes to take pride in owning their own property."

Andy Young of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) said the policy had "no place in 21st century Scotland".

He claimed right-to-buy had been "beneficial to a relatively small number of individuals, but clearly a loss to the greater public good".

Mr Young added: "Around 500,000 social rented homes have been lost in the 35 years of this policy in Scotland, very often the better stock in the more popular areas."

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