36% of homes sold under the Right to Buy are now let by private
landlords, claims a report published this
week by Tom Copley AM,
Labour's housing spokesperson in the London Assembly. Compiled from
responses to Freedom of Information requests, the
report refers to RTB sales in London only.
Copley counted the proportion of council leaseholders in each
borough registering an "away" address - suggesting that they were
not themselves resident in the property because they had let it to
In Tower Hamlets the proportion of such leaseholders was over
50% and in Enfield only slightly less; in Kensington & Chelsea,
Barking and Dagenham, Ealing and Kingston it was over 40%, with the
lowest percentage - 24% - in Brent.
The Right to Buy has been in operation for over 30 years, so it
is not surprising that a significant percentage of sold homes are
no longer occupied by the tenants who bought them. But it is
striking that such a high percentage should have been sold on to
private landlords rather than owner-occupiers.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that ex-RTB flats are attractive
investments for Buy-to-Let purchasers because they are generally in
a good state of repair and councils, as freeholders, can generally
be relied on to keep the structure and common parts
Copley says that 36% may be an underestimate of the number of
homes now let privately because there is no requirement for
non-resident leaseholders to register an "away" address and many
may not. On the other hand, it should be pointed out that his
figures relate only to Right to Buy homes sold on long leases -
that is, with a few exceptions, flats and maisonettes. Houses sold
freehold are not included, and it may be that these are, by and
large, more attractive purchases for owner-occupiers.
There is no easily accessible data on rents charged specifically
for ex-council flats or the proportion of them let to tenants on
benefits, but private rents as much as £100 a week more than
council rents for similar properties are not unusual.
Where low income tenants are forced to rely on private lets
because councils cannot make social housing available to them, the
impact on benefit spending, though difficult to quantify, is
Copley makes a number of recommendations, including proposing
that future RTB sales should be subject to a binding covenant that
the property remains in owner-occupation. But the fundamental
problem remains the shortage of new council homes - Buy-to-Let
landlords are taking advantage of a sellers' market that exists
because of the shortage of social rented housing.
An alternative approach would be to revisit the current
arrangements for RTB replacements to ensure that councils are
enabled to at least replace sold homes on a one-for-one,
like-for-like basis, and, wherever necessary, to build additional
homes to meet local demand.