RTB sales fall to their lowest level in six years

The number of council homes sold to tenants under the statutory Right to Buy scheme has fallen to its lowest level for six years according to Government statistics.

Councils sold 2,313 homes under the scheme in the three months from April to June this year, representing a seven per cent fall on the same quarter last year and the lowest number of sales in the first quarter since 2012/13 when 2,181 homes were sold.

However, this is still ten times the figure for sales recorded in the final quarter of 2008/09 when just 277 council homes were bought by tenants shortly after the economic crash and the start of austerity.

The first quarter drop continued the recent decline in sales, as councils sold 2,612 homes to sitting tenants in the previous quarter, between January and March 2019. During the last six years sales peaked at 3,470 in the third quarter of 2016/17.

The figures released show that councils received £194.7m in receipts from the sales, also a seven per cent fall on the same quarter of last year. The average receipt per property was £84,200.

On a more positive note councils started work on or acquired 1,290 new homes, up 38 per cent on the same quarter last year. This is traditionally a slow quarter for starts and acquisitions with this year’s total being the highest first quarter figure since 2012/13.

This builds on last year’s improved performance when English councils directly built 2,560 homes in 2018/19 – the highest figure since 1992/3 when they built 2,580 homes.

But councils have only been able to replace about a fifth of the homes sold since 2011/12 and this is impacting hugely on their ability to provide housing for homeless and vulnerable families.

In all almost two million former council homes have been sold to tenants since the scheme was introduced in the early 1980s. As many as 40 per cent of these are now understood to be owned by private landlords, with large numbers being let back to councils for housing low income tenants in at higher rents with housing benefit picking up the bill.

Currently councils only retain a third of RTB receipts with the rest kept by the Treasury. The Local Government Association has campaigned for councils to be able to keep 100 per cent of RTB receipts and to set discounts locally.

By Patrick Mooney, Editor