Housing

Boris Johnson's plans to expand Right to Buy housing scheme labelled 'baffling and unworkable'

The prime minister has announced an expansion of the right to buy scheme and plans to allow benefits to contribute towards mortgages.

Boris Johnson has announced measures to help people onto the housing ladder (Image: The Guardian)

Plans to expand the Right to Buy scheme and allow benefits claimants to use welfare payments to buy homes have been criticised as “a dangerous gimmick” by housing charities. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a set of new measures to address the housing crisis in a speech made in Blackpool, pledging “a clear vision to continue to tackle the rising cost of living” while “delivering on the government’s overriding mission to unite and level up the country”. 

The proposals include allowing housing association tenants to buy their homes at a discounted cost and letting people on housing benefits payments put these towards buying a home.

A number of analysts have said the announcement is part of a bid by the PM to repair relations with Conservative MPs who submitted no confidence votes against him earlier this week. 

Labour has called the announcement a “rehash” of old Conservative pledges and warned that the plans will “make the housing crisis worse” by fuelling further demand without properly addressing supply shortfalls and won’t help the poorest.

Housing charity Shelter said the plans were “baffling, unworkable, and a dangerous gimmick”.

Alongside changes to right to buy and benefits, Johnson said the government would be conducting a “comprehensive review” of the mortgage market to help those struggling to get on the housing ladder.

The PM suggested that changes could include making lenders recognise the creditworthiness of rental payments.

The proposals have gone down badly with housing charities, who see the speech as a cynical bid by Johnson to save his leadership, as well as an ill-thought out way to solve the housing crisis.

Initially introduced under Margaret Thatcher’s government, the Right to Buy scheme offered council housing tenants the opportunity to buy their home at a discounted rate. 

While some view the scheme as a positive way to help lower-income households onto the housing ladder, others point out that the scheme’s legacy has been a mass loss of social housing over several decades. 

According to the New Economics Foundation, Right to Buy has led to an average net loss of 24,000 social homes a year since 1991, with councils failing to replace like-for-like homes once they’re sold off.

Research from Inside Housing shows that some 40 per cent of Right to Buy homes are now rented privately. 

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Housing experts have also questioned the viability of allowing people to use housing benefits towards mortgage payments. Housing benefit helps those who are unemployed or on low incomes to pay their rent. People with mortgages are not usually eligible for payments.

Dan Wilson Craw of charity Generation Rent pointed out on Twitter that few people receiving universal credit would have the funds either to save for a house deposit or to keep up with mortgage payments.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “The Prime Minister’s housing plans are baffling, unworkable, and a dangerous gimmick. Hatching reckless plans to extend Right to Buy will put our rapidly shrinking supply of social homes at even greater risk.  

“For decades the promise to replace every social home sold off through Right to Buy has flopped. If these plans progress we will remain stuck in the same destructive cycle of selling off and knocking down thousands more social homes than get built each year. 

“The maths doesn’t add up: why try to sell off what little truly affordable housing is left – at great expense – when homelessness is rising and over a million households are stuck on the waiting list. The government needs to stop wasting time on the failed policies of the past and start building more of the secure social homes this country actually needs.” 

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