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EDITORIAL: Scale of the housing crisis in London exacerbated by Right To Buy policy

Monday saw the publication of a new report on right to buy by London Assembly member Tom Copley.

The research investigates how social homes are moving into the private sector before being let at market rents, and calls for the government to abolish right to buy in London.

Strikingly, as the News reports this week, it reveals that Southwark spends around £2million yearly on letting homes it used to own from private landlords for temporary accommodation.

The sum, while large, is only a portion of spending on temporary accommodation generally.

Housing supply, already scarce in the borough, is further complicated by landlords refusing to let their properties to tenants on benefits.

1,300 social homes have been lost since 2012, say council cabinet members, when government reforms extended the right to buy discount.

Often they are privately let out at far higher rent than social rent for which they were originally intended.

The borough, like many in the capital, is experiencing a housing crisis: 25,000 people are waiting on the council housing list.

READ MORE: Council spends £2 million a year renting back former council homes as report reveals impact of right-to-buy on social housing

As a result, town hall officials have explored options to mitigate the effect of right to buy on social housing stock in the borough.

Among the ideas floated to tackle dwindling housing stock is a proposal to introduce covenants on new right to buy properties requiring or incentivising them to sublet at social rents.

But it is not clear whether councils can do this without legislation passed in Westminster – and the council says it is still evaluating the degree of legal risk attached.

Crucially, central government has to respond.

Local authorities like Southwark have been petitioning for additional powers to curb the number of right to buy purchases, including a ‘one in, one out’ policy on right to buy applications.

Opposition councillors also agree that additional powers are needed for local authorities to change right to buy.

In other parts of the country, yet more radical action has already been taken. In Wales, where it is a devolved power, right to buy will end this month.

The policy was introduced to help individual council tenants to realise their dream of owning their own home – but has it now passed its sell by date?

Those in the private renting sector, with no similar discounts offered to enable them to buy,  may well feel so, whilst the vision of communities staying together through home ownership proved misguided, as entire areas, including in Southwark, have taken the discount and then sold up and moved away.

Given the scale of London’s housing crisis – particularly acute in Southwark – Mr Copley’s report is a welcome addition to the debate over the future of right to buy.


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