Strategic failure of Right to Buy is damaging ambitions to Level Up.

By Jerry Gilbert · 30 March 2022

The newly published research revealed in the CIH UK Housing Review 2022 has reinforced what we all knew – that the Right to Buy scheme has become a ‘strategic failure’ which if not reviewed will contribute to even more social disadvantage and exacerbate inequality.

This is not good news for a Government with a levelling up agenda which wants to ‘spread opportunity more equally across the UK’. It’s aim is to ‘end the geographic inequality’, increasing productivity, pay, jobs and living standards ‘in those places where they are lagging.’ (Levelling up White Paper).

But the report reveals that when it comes to improving affordable housing, the Right to Buy scheme is doing just the opposite. It has reduced the stock of social rented homes, many of which have ended up in the unregulated private rented sector (currently 40% and rising) so it is not achieving the aim of boosting home ownership effectively. Indeed, it is costing the taxpayer more money in benefits due to privately owned rental accommodation having higher rents. It has added pressure to local authority housing waiting lists and increased temporary accommodation costs.

The transfer of stock to the private rented market is also hampering the Government’s ambition to improve homes and achieve net zero. Whilst social rented homes are benefitting from investment in net zero and retrofitting funding as well as Decent Homes initiatives, privately owned homes are falling behind in their standards – often in the same estate.

An analysis of the Review, by Alan Murie, Emeritus Professor of urban and regional studies at the University of Birmingham, finds that Right to Buy has had a ‘levelling down’ impact in smaller settlements and rural areas where council housing was critical in providing good quality, low-rent housing for lower-paid households with local work and family connections. Without a supply of council lettings many newly forming households, who cannot afford to buy, are unable to access housing locally or are limited to accommodation that fails to meet their needs.

He concludes that: “If there had been a sufficient attempt to sustain investment in social housing and to reinvest capital receipts in social rented homes, the impacts of right to buy could have been offset. The problem has not been right to buy as such, but because right to buy has continued alongside other policy failures.”

Right to Buy left a big hole in the provision of affordable rented housing and worse than that, is actively working against the levelling up and the net zero agendas . The Government needs to recognise that the policy is not working and refocus on enabling the sector to deliver low-rent homes to really help improve the opportunities of people in some of the most socially-deprived areas.

Jerry Gilbert


One of the founders of ARK Consultancy, Jerry has more than 30 years’ experience in housing and considerable senior management experience in both the private and social sectors. He specialises in performance improvement and project delivery on complex regeneration and new build programmes.

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