Leeds councillors call for changes to right-to-buy laws

A Leeds councillor has suggested the government’s “right to buy” scheme should be extended to privately-rented homes.

The meeting heard claims that the council's housing stock has plummeted by 40,000 since the early 1980s.

It followed discussions at a Leeds City Council committee meeting over the number of affordable homes in the district, following a report by council officers which stated an extra 720 affordable homes were needed per year to help alleviate problems caused by “historical under-provision”.

It was claimed at the meeting that, while the council was building new affordable houses, its social housing stock was still shrinking due to the government’s right-to-buy scheme, introduced in the 1980s to allow council tenants to buy their homes.

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Coun Kevin Ritchie (Lab) told the council’s infrastructure scrutiny committee: “We are delivering more social housing than councils who have their own housing companies.

The meeting heard claims that the council's housing stock has plummeted by 40,000 since the early 1980s.

“What worried me is the effect on right to buy with a net loss of affordable units in the city. We are losing 500 units to right-to-buy a year. It’s having an impact, so what can we do about it?”

He went on to suggest scrapping or modifying the government’s right to buy scheme, adding: “It seems absurd that people are effectively handed a wedge of public money having had years of affordable rent.

“Other people in the private sector, who are paying over the odds anyway, don’t get this – it strikes me as unfair.

“Perhaps another alternative would be to introduce right to buy to private properties – a few landlords might be quaking in their boots at that prospect.”

Deputy leader of Leeds City Council Debra Coupar (Lab) added: “We have to work within constraints of government policy, but that doesn’t stop us from talking to government about that policy and asking for them to make changes.

“Once [council houses] are sold, a lot of them end up being privately rented. When that happens it can cause more problems for estates, and I don’t think that was the intention of government policy. Their intention was that people could own their own homes.”

Chairing the meeting, Coun Paul Truswell (Lab) said: “When I first became a councillor back in 1982, we had 98,000 council properties, we are now down to about 57,000. That is a huge gulf in terms of social housing and social rents, let alone affordable rents.

“We in this city still have people in desperate housing need, and if we don’t abolish the right to buy, then at least local authorities should be given the discretion to say ‘there is too much housing need in our area to sell anymore properties at this time’.

“I would like to see right to buy abolished altogether.”

Defending right to buy, Coun Neil Buckley (Con) said: “I have a lot of sympathy and [selling former council properties to private landlords] does create a messy unsatisfactory situation.

“Having said that, I would say that from my family’s own experience, there is no better way of getting on in life than than being able to buy your own council house.”