Socialist Worker

London councils are losing millions from Tory Right to Buy

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2638

Tory attacks have seen council housing sold off and neglected

Tory attacks have seen council housing sold off and neglected (Pic: Ray Smith)


London councils are paying over £22 million a year to rent back homes they were forced to sell under the Tories’ Right to Buy scheme.

The “flagship” policy was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s.

A report by Labour Greater London Assembly member Tom Copley shows that 54,000 former local authority homes are being rented back to councils in London.

The new figure represents an increase of over 11,000 since 2014. Of all the former council homes sold off in London under Right to Buy, 42 percent are now being rented out by landlords.

Newham council has the highest figure, with almost £13 million a year in rent going to private landlords who own former council houses.

As a result renters are at the mercy of the likes of Bernard McGowan, a slum landlord with a £30 million property empire.

The Guardian newspaper revealed last year that McGowan was still operating as a landlord despite failing a “fit and proper” test and being convicted under the Housing Act six times.

It has now been revealed that McGowan has received £500,000 in rent from Brent council, in north west London, in the form of ­housing benefit.

This is despite the council having banned him from operating as a landlord.

Housing inspectors’ departments at councils have been cut to the bone.

And even when people like McGowan are caught out, councils are powerless to stop them from moving to operate in a different local authority.

Scandal

Copley’s report shines a welcome light on a huge scandal, but it offers little by way of addressing it. It talks up London mayor Sadiq Khan’s “ring fence offer” for Right to Buy receipts in London to be reinvested by into building new social housing.

But social rents include housing associations—many of which are behaving ­increasingly like private firms.

Two city councils—Nottingham and Leicester—recently announced they would begin buying back homes sold off under Right to Buy.

Each will use money raised through the lifting of restrictions on their Housing Revenue Accounts.

But this will mean shelling out huge amounts compared to the original amounts the homes were sold for.

In Ealing, west London, the council has bought back 516 homes that were sold under Right to Buy at a cost of £107 million.

That’s more than six times it got from the original sales.

The scale of the crisis needs a national solution. Labour has said it will “suspend” the Right to Buy policy. But it should be scrapped altogether.

And buying back homes sold off piecemeal is not enough—a programme of mass council house building is needed.


Figures show fire risk

Just 26 local authorities out of 128 surveyed are using registered fire risk assessors, an investigation by the Inside Housing magazine has revealed.

Some 23 councils used a mixture of unregistered and registered, and 23 used only unregistered. Some 56 did not know if their assessors were registered.

The new figures are a result of deregulation and privatisation. And it’s one more example that little has changed since the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017.

Carl Stokes, the risk assessor for the tower, signed it off as safe. There should be no such loopholes.

The Hackitt Review into building regulations has recommended that risk assessors should have third party accreditation. That should be an absolute minimum.


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