Right-to-buy 'trapped' homeowners

image captionRight-to-buy was a key policy for Margaret Thatcher's government

Many former council tenants have been "trapped" in their homes by right-to-buy legislation, a housing expert has claimed.

The policy was introduced by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government 30 years ago.

But Dr Maarten van Ham of St Andrews University said it had failed to mobilise the workforce as expected.

His research suggested right-to-buy had left many people "stuck in the same house and the same neighbourhood".

Since its introduction in 1980, more than 2.7 million homes have been sold under the scheme.

Among other things, it was aimed at giving those in social housing more freedom to move to respond to job opportunities in different regions of the country.

Dr van Ham, of the university's Centre for Housing Research, said right-to-buy has had a limited effect on homeowners.

He said: "The right-to-buy has given many households access to home ownership, but not to better places.

"So what have they gained? It concerns me that many are stuck in the same house and the same neighbourhood."

Researchers compared the moving behaviour of social renters in the UK who exercised their right-to-buy with traditional owners and tenants.

They said it showed that right-to-buy failed to free up labour as hoped, with the mobility of right-to-buy owners falling between that of social renters and traditional owners.

The study suggested right-to-buy owners were less likely than traditional owners, but more likely than social renters, to move for job-related reasons.

And they were more likely to move for reasons relating to their neighbourhoods than both traditional owner-occupiers and tenants, and also generally less satisfied with their homes than traditional owners, but more satisfied than tenants.

The dissatisfaction centred on environmental factors such as noise from neighbours and crime rather than the size of their homes.

Right-to-buy owners were more likely to express a desire to move than traditional owners, a finding which Dr van Ham said suggested they may have had difficulty in moving because their houses were hard to sell.

He added: "Although the best houses sold, most of them are not in the best neighbourhoods, and people find it difficult to sell."

'Political conclusion'

The research team analysed data from the British Household Panel Study and the National Child Development Study, supplementing the sample to include 10,000 households, in what it said was the first study of its kind.

But Tory MSP Alex Johnstone said the report showed that social mobility had improved for those who had bought their home.

"To argue that those who used right-to-buy were 'trapped' is a political conclusion by the report's authors, not a logical conclusion borne out by the facts," Mr Johnstone said.

"Right-to-buy has been an enormous success, and would continue to provide more families with a foot on the housing ladder but for the political vandalism of Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems who are trying to scrap it for new tenants and new social housing."

Labour's Scottish housing spokeswoman Mary Mulligan MSP said the research had started "from a very peculiar premise".

She added: "A number of people who exercised their right to buy became the bedrock of their communities. The problem we have now is that demand for rented accommodation is now far outstripping supply.

"Labour when in power put in place thousands of affordable homes through housing associations and local authority housing. We cannot afford to see that progress slow.

"We want as many people as possible to share in the benefits of home ownership and to have a stake in an affordable home."

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