The right-to-buy revolutionaries: How the era-defining scheme changed homeowners' lives
Thirty years since the launch of Margaret Thatcher's controversial housing policy, it still divides Britain's housing estates.
Friday 01 October 2010
Debbie Edward-Jones, 51
I will have lived in my house for 22 years in May. It's a three-bedroomed house on a council estate. It's got a bad name, but what council estate doesn't? But we are a very tight community on this street, we all stick together and look out for each other. It's rare, especially in this day and age. I've lived on this estate 24 years in all and I wouldn't move out.
Six of us on the street have bought our council houses, and four still rent. Apart from one neighbour, we've all been in the street for over 10 years; people who bought their houses all stayed in them.
I bought the house in September 2004, but I had actually applied the year before to the council, but it was only a verbal contract, and because I didn't say a 'definite yes' it went up massively in price. It was £32,000; a year later they wanted £52,000.
But I decided to go for it anyway. I thought it would be something to leave my children. And it was sentimental value more than anything: my children grew up here, my grandchildren are over every day.
Everything was fine with mine for a couple of years. But then I started having problems at work. I was a carer at a residential home, and it's a very stressful job. I was suffering with very bad depression and panic attacks thanks to the pressure at work. After four months off sick, I ended up losing my job. It left me in a very bad way.
I was taken to court several times for not being able to make my mortgage payments last year. They tried to repossess my home, and I wouldn't have even known about it if someone from the charity Shelter hadn't happened to see it up on the board at the court. But the judge was fantastic, he deserves a gold medal – he could see I was doing everything I could. It was when there was all the snow and he refused to let them just turn me out of the house into that.
It's been more trouble than it's worth – I wouldn't have bought if I'd known. It wasn't really explained to me properly, they were just like "sign this, sign this". I've spoken to a couple of other people who've also regretted buying their houses, because circumstances change and then you can't make payments.
Gary Glover, 44
I live on a council estate in south-east London. It's a 1950s three-story maisonette and we're on the ground floor. We've lived there 15 years, and ended up buying the property about five years ago.
Quite a lot of the council property in the area has been bought. Our next door neighbour bought his and rents it on to a couple who use it for their childrens' student flat, but quite a few people have carried on living in their houses – it's a mixed bag.
We thought we ought to buy, because rents were going higher and higher, and the discount used to be very good. We waited a while before we bought ours; we probably should have bought it sooner really. The discount was still quite good, so we're pleased we did. It was £166,000, but our mortgage was £121,000 which isn't bad for a three-bedroom place in London.
We went a bit against the grain though. I used to be quite against Thatcher's "right to buy" policy on principle, but then as you get older you have to look after yourself. It was really about having a bit of security. Plus it was a bargain of a price – some properties here are going for £290,000 now.
I think the scheme has changed the area and the social mix over the years, though. The community cohesion is just not there as much. People are in and out; you don't know people in the same way. People don't care about the area – it's just somewhere to live. My family's been here for six generations, and my mum and my mother-in-law both still live round here. They also bought their council houses – they'd paid into the pot for years.
Gulafshan Ali, 46
We live in a maisonette; we bought the first and second floor but the ground and basement are still rented. It's in one of the quite sought-after streets in Hammersmith, very convenient. There are a few other council properties on the street, but most of them are still rented.
We moved here in 1996 and bought it 2001. We actually bought a share of the property from the council, 30 per cent, paying them about £42,000. The value of the property was about £80,000 when we moved in but within a few years it had gone up to £160,000 and we couldn't afford to buy the whole thing. I wish I had bought it when it was £80,000.
I didn't really want to buy. But an uncle who lived in the borough kept saying "what are you paying rent for? You might as well be paying off a mortgage". And my husband was always saying we should buy, so we did. He doesn't like to be bossed and he always wanted his own business, whereas I'm a worrier – and I thought if he did have his own business we might then not be able to afford the house. And a few years after we bought, he did get made redundant and did start up his own business. He now owns a garage in Slough.
Buying was a good idea at the time. But I wish that before I bought the property I had asked the council to do the repairs that were their responsibility. The house was quite old, but they hadn't done much on it like they usually do. The elderly lady in the flat downstairs had been complaining about a leak, but the council could never find any leaks apparently. But once we owned it we really had to have the bathroom replaced, which cost £5,000.
We can't put a nail in the walls, that's how bad they are. We need to have it all plastered. The heater, the boiler, they all need to be replaced, but it's like Pandora's box – once you start, they all need doing. I want to do a lot to my home but I can't afford to.
We're OK though – we've got somewhere to live, in an ideal location. The property does feel a bit small though; we've got three boys, aged 19, 16 and 8. It's a Victorian maisonette with only two bedrooms – it's not spacious. There's five of us to a bathroom: the fights in the morning, my god. I do think sometimes that we should get a bigger house, but I've always lived in this part of London and I just don't want to move.
I live on a small estate of 18 houses in a village two miles outside of Builth Wells. Four of the houses were built in the late 1940s and the rest – like ours – in the 1950s. They're all semi-detached and we all have gardens, and nice views overlooking the hills. Ours has three bedrooms but it's more like a bungalow really.
We've lived in the house since 1986. My husband was born on the estate, his parents had one of the first ones.
We bought our house about three years ago. It was a pretty poorly built house; they were done on a budget to increase housing after the war. The council had done quite a bit to it over the years – central heating, double glazing, a new roof, cavity wall insulation. That put the price up, but if we'd bought it earlier we would have had to do that stuff ourselves, it did need it.
In the early 1980s you could get a very good offer on these houses, something like £20,000. We paid over £85,000, including discount, so it was not particularly cheap. Having lived here so long, we'd probably bought it twice over in rent already.
I thought I'd buy because if we retire in a few years we wouldn't have very much money, but the rent would go up every year. We wouldn't have much pension – my husband is self-employed and I haven't worked long enough at the local council for a large pension.
There are only two left as council houses here, the rest have been bought. There's been tremendous changes over the years. It used to be "born and bred": people lived here till they were in their sixties and then they moved to an old people's bungalow in the next village. But since the houses have nearly all been sold, a lot of new people have moved in.
The "right to buy" scheme has changed our community quite a bit. We used to know everybody, leave our houses open, let the kids go out to play in front of the houses, but you couldn't do that now.
The houses have been bought up and done up, for a profit. They needed to be done up, but it does mean they're not affordable for local people any more. My husband David thinks it's a disgrace. Without council houses, we haven't got anywhere for families to live. There's nothing in the rural area in the way of new affordable housing.
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