House transfer could free 16bn pounds

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TRANSFER of council housing to a new type of social housing company could free pounds 16bn to allow refurbishment of estates, according to a report published yesterday, writes Ngaio Crequer.

The growing problem of providing affordable homes for rent could be tackled at no net cost to the Treasury under the plan evisaged by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Institute of Housing. It involves a large-scale transfer of council housing to new housing companies, releasing the maturing assets now tied up. Councils would retain a non- controlling interest.

The plan was unveiled at a conference yesterday. It meets one of the most severe criticisms of present government plans to build more homes.

Because of new rules introduced in 1988, nearly 100,000 homes belonging to local councils were approved for large- scale voluntary transfer. Tenants were asked to approve moving control to a housing association.

The Government became concerned when this led to it meeting a higher-than-forecast increase in people being eligible for housing benefit payments. The collapse of the private housing market has meant a big drop in council right-to- buy sales.

According to Steve Wilcox, the lead researcher for the project, the plan unveiled yesterday would 'mean more resources for investment in homes, without any increase in expenditure for the Chancellor'. He added that he would like to see a pilot study supported by the Government.