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Right-to-buy: The history of a life-changing but controversial housing policy

Policy has proved devastating for the next generation needing social housing

Emily Dugan
Friday 31 October 2014 22:42 GMT
CLTs are exempt from Right to Buy legislation
CLTs are exempt from Right to Buy legislation (Getty)

There is a generation of former council tenants who will always be grateful to Margaret Thatcher for giving them a previously unthinkable opportunity: buying their own home.

While the Poll Tax is often seen as Thatcher’s defining legacy amongst the working class for all the wrong reasons, Right to Buy earned her the gratitude of many.

The policy, introduced in 1980, gave generous discounts for council tenants to buy up their own home. More than two million homes were sold under Right to Buy between 1980 and 1995 and it gave many families their first ever step on the housing ladder.

As north London security guard John Holland put it in an interview with the BBC: "There's no way we'd be property owners now if it wasn't for her. It was perfect, absolutely perfect." The discounted home he bought for £39,000 31 years ago is now worth around £600,000.

But what was a life changing opportunity for individual families has proved devastating for the next generation needing social housing. The sales proceeds were not used to build enough affordable homes and many Right to Buy properties have been sold on so many times that they are now rented back to councils at exorbitant rates by private landlords.

Labour realised scrapping the policy would be a vote loser, so instead it drastically reduced the discount available to tenants in 1999 and the numbers buying their homes dropped.

David Cameron launched a revamped version of Right to Buy in 2012, giving new preferential terms. He increased the cap on the maximum discount to £75,000 or £100,000 for London. This meant a quadrupling of the discount in London and a trebling for most parts of Britain. The terms were made even more favourable in July this year.

Now the Independent has uncovered evidence that the Government’s drive to encourage councils to sell off their already limited supplies of housing stock is allowing former council tenants to profiteer as buy-to-let landlords.

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