Laura Perrins: May’s Right to Buy scheme won’t make much difference

I would like to know, just who are the working class? On one level it is simple –they are people who work for a living. They are not professionals and they may not have a degree. They are honest folk being screwed over by others – the global elites, the Tories, the Blairites, it depends on who you ask. What we can agree on is that Theresa May quite likes them and wants their votes.

I ask all this because there is quite a lot riding on a working definition of ‘the working class.’ For lo, Mother Theresa did promise on Sunday to house these ordinary hard working folk of the working class.

The Sunday Times reported: "Theresa May will launch an audacious bid to woo Labour voters when she puts plans for a new generation of council homes for the working classes at the heart of her programme for government."

Mother Theresa is going to encourage councils to build more homes, and then after a period of time the tenants can exercise a right to buy. This Right to Buy business featured in the last Tory manifesto but I am told not a single home was bought under it. We were also told that there will be no new money for this scheme.

May said: “Whether you rent or buy, everyone needs the security of a place to call home but too many ordinary working families are stuck on council waiting lists, facing unaffordable rents and struggling to save for that first deposit.”

So there you are – if we do manage to get this new stock of housing built, it will be for ‘ordinary working families’ so beloved of Mother Theresa.

The thing is Theresa May cannot unilaterally change the law on the allocation of housing, and under the current rules priority is not necessarily given to ‘ordinary working families.’

Is she now saying being in work will be a requirement to rent a council home? My understanding was that it was allocated according to need – not whether you were working, ordinary or not.

Shelter gives a summary here: Before a council decides how much priority to give you for social housing in its area, it looks at whether you are: eligible to apply for council housing and are a qualifying person.

If you are eligible and qualify you can join the council's waiting list or housing register.

Eligibility is here.

This states you must be a British citizen or live in the UK and have long-term or indefinite right to stay, including workers from the European Economic Area (EEA) (the EU countries plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein); are a self-employed EEA worker or a member of an EEA worker's family; have indefinite leave to remain in the UK (settled status); or, have refugee status and other cases.

To decide how much priority you get, the council looks at how its housing allocation policy applies to you. Each council decides its own allocation policy. However, by law, a council's allocation policy must give some priority to certain groups of people. This is called reasonable preference.

You can get some priority if you are homeless, living in poor conditions, have a medical condition, need to live in a particular area, served in armed forces, and other cases.

So I am just pointing out that this is not straightforward. Some councils give priority to people in work, others do not.

I don’t want to be a pessimist but this policy is about as likely to be executed in its current form as you are to find me presenting the Today programme. It ain’t going to happen even though it would be a really good thing if it did.

So should you know an ordinary working family that would quite like a council house, I would not buy them a ‘Congratulations on the New Home’ card just yet.

(Image: Lydia)

Laura Perrins

  • Groan

    Yes yes yes. This is precisely the problem with all the Parties’ current competition to offer “free stuff” in a sort of “virtue signalling” fest of unaffordability. Many moons ago in the Era of “new towns” and the like (I live in an area that had a similar status though not a New Town as such) this all made sense as there was “conservative lending” so people without a solid salary, even if high earning, could only rent. Now of course money is lent all over the place and the remaining rented sector (almost non of it is “council” now its all in “housing association type organisations “RSLs””) is locked into a variety of “criteria because so much of it relies on housing benefit.
    So another empty policy because the overall problem is too few homes being chased by far too much money (including tax payers money paying rents). No party is going to suggest the economic remedy, stop subsidising and fiddling with the market and let prices “fall” to meet effective demand.
    In truth in Greater Manchester this is sort of happening as the City shifts to being one of flat dwellers in huge private developments. The market filling the need for affordable housing in huge developments of cheap to buy flats. They may be unattractive but if we insist on “single person households” as a nation then they all can’t be garden semis.
    In the meantime all the parties will promise “fiddling” on the already deep layers of subsidy, manipulation, schemes and criteria with no real thought to how to free the market.

    • Sargv

      > too few homes being chased by far too much money

      It’s only true for desirable areas, not for UK as whole. If HB would only be provided with assumed relocation to cities with extra housing stock, the waiting lists will be cleared in no time; free riders that actually have means to rent (i.e. working cash in hand) will stop abusing HB program; and more housing will be freed within the major cities where the commercial demand is massive. It’s win-win-win – for those who really suffer, and not just want free stuff because they feel being entitled to it.

  • Sargv

    From my perspective, the problem with council housing is that it’s just that – it’s owned by councils, and is being distributed on council level, within limited geographical area.

    Why on earth the people who can’t afford the rent in London or Manchester should be allowed to join a waiting list in one of the boroughs? Give them a house in Oldham or Rochdale. If they are not willing to relocate because they have relatives in London – they can move in with them, and hence shouldn’t be eligible for HB. If they are not willing to relocate because they have a job in London, they should be able to rent with the income from that job. Anything else is just irrelevant – beggars should not be choosers.

    It’s not that there’s not enough housing stock in UK. Is that the state subsidises those people who want to live in desirable locations but can’t afford to do that.

    • Craig Martin

      Councils also tend to work to PC ideals.
      That’s why single mothers get a free pass with housing.

  • Busy Mum

    It is working people’s money that is used by councils to build houses in the first place.

    • explain that


      • Woman at home

        Perhaps not directly, but councils subsidise housing built by the housing associations.

        • explain that


      • Busy Mum

        No need to shout -it didn’t escape me – but that doesn’t alter the fact that the only money councils possess has come from working people.

        • explain that


          • Bik Byro

            hehe this is like something from Private Eye’s “From the message boards”. I’m waiting for darling_deneyze, brown_out and justice_4_maddie to come along in a minute

          • Busy Mum

            They have been subcontracting it out. They have been paying for other people’s housing, even if they haven’t been building the actual houses.

        • The_Mocking_Turtle

          No. Councils can borrow to build just like anybody else with a mortgage or a loan.

          • Busy Mum

            And with whose money do they pay the interest? And whose money do they borrow?

          • The_Mocking_Turtle

            The council for the duration of the build, four to five years, say, which would soon be recouped once the home built were let to tenants at below market, non-profit making, affordable levels. Loans like this would be of much longer duration than those taken on by individuals and rents accruing from properties, once let, would service but the interest and pay of the loan proper over several decades: the massive savings on Housing Benefit payments could also be put to better use in other arenas.

    • The_Mocking_Turtle

      And working people’s money that pays vast amounts of Hosing Benefit to private landlords. Cheaper housing would reduce rents and make huge savings over time as far as Housing Benefit is concerned. Council housing will recoup any money spent on building it, over time, and give local authorities a permanent asset that will only ever increase in value.

  • mudlark2

    Isn’t it just another way in which Theresa May is copying the paternalistic policies of the Labour party in order to colonise those areas of the electorate the Conservatives haven’t bothered with before? Before Mrs Thatcher’s arrival, whole swathes of public housing estates were controlled by Labour Councils who could count on the votes of council house dwellers at election time. What really is the difference between May’s current approach and that of old Labour? Instead of letting people free, May is consigning them to a dependency which real Conservatives would have scorned. Even the promise of being able to buy later on is simply ‘jam tomorrow’ and has no guarantee of being fulfilled when May leaves office.

  • paul parmenter

    I can speak to this. My daughter and son-in-law would like to move from private rented accommodation, which is expensive and barely suitable, to a council house. They have a new baby. Unfortunately they made the mistake of being married to each other and both working (before maternity leave). They are accordingly so far down the housing waiting list that they are resigned to staying where they are until either they get their inheritance or manage to save enough for a mortgage to buy their own place.

    It is strange old world where trying to do what always used to be the right thing, gets you demoted to the point of virtual disappearance. Apparently the very last people our society wants to support are married couples who work to pay their way.

    • The_Mocking_Turtle

      You can’t see the wood for the trees. It isn’t allocation of council properties that is the problem but the fact that too few of them exist to service demand, particularly after so many of them were sold off cheap to tenants and not replaced with new build.

  • The_Mocking_Turtle

    Once upon a time the “market” was supposed to be the solution to the housing crises. In 2010 the Conservatives hoped that investors would invest billions in “social housing” by allowing the owners of such housing to charge an 80% “market” rent. The scheme fell flat on its face for obvious reasons. As a result of a lack of investment in non-profit making low-rent accommodation with decent tendencies the Housing Benefit bill has ballooned exorbitantly as private tenants, forced to rent accommodation in a hugely expensive private sector, most in work but earning too little money to meet their rents are compelled to apply for top-up Housing Benefit from the government to avoid homelessness. Limits, cuts and caps have made little difference and have not caused rents to fall as originally claimed, only made life near to unbearable to the poor and the needy in many areas of the country.

    So here’s the thing:

    Invest in social housing or accept an exponentially rising Housing Benefit bill, forever.

    It’s an either-or binary choice because the “market” is never going to solve the problem. And the best thing about the former is that is gives local authorities and housing associations assets in land and bricks and mortar that will inevitably increase in value over time, which is a darn sight better than pouring billions of pounds into the back pockets of private profit making landlords.