Letter: The cavaliers of Westminster

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The Independent Online
YOU DID a great service in highlighting the resignation of Alan Duncan from his Parliamentary Private Secretary job ('Right winger with fatal Midas touch', 9 January), especially in the light of more recent disclosures regarding the cavalier way in which Westminster City Council has been discharging its other duties as a local authority.

However, for those uninformed about local government housing finance, can I make the following further points?

First, Mr Duncan claims that the house was in a dilapidated state, and was subsiding. But the owners at that time, Westminster council, was being paraded by the Government as a most efficient local authority, and it was surely that council's responsibility to ensure that the house was fit for habitation.

Second, although several local authorities had adopted a policy of 'right to buy' in advance of government legislation, they had a certain amount of discretion regarding the amount of discount which was made available to intending purchasers.

When 'right to buy' was made compulsory for local authorities, the amount of discount was determined by a formula which used length of tenancy as a main factor. The size of such discount (currently up to 70 per cent) is a loss and is borne by the 'Housing Revenue Account', in other words, by those tenants who have chosen not to exercise their 'right' and continue to pay rent.

The discount is accompanied by another 'right' - that of a mortgage from the local authority, but which only applies to purchasers who can demonstrate their ability to service such a mortgage.

Unfortunately, tenants in receipt of housing benefit are deemed to be incapable of discharging such liability, and thus forfeit their 'right to buy'. When I was chair of our council's housing committee (1984- 88), we discovered that this 'right to buy' applied only to about 27 per cent of our tenants, since the other 73 per cent were on housing benefit . . . some right]

I hope Mr Duncan's 'tenant' lives to be 150 (with rent free occupancy, of course).

Mick Williams