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Government buying scheme withdrawal adds to pressure on social housing

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Post Christmas possession proceedings

According to recent figures, there has been a 48% rise in the sales of social housing to private ownership as pressure on existing stock continues to grow.

Data from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) shows that housing associations ‘disposed’ of 4,406 homes between April 2015 and April 2016, up from 2,982 in the previous year. It is believed that much of the stock has been freed up in order to fund new developments.

While, new, more modern developments are an excellent long-term investment in meeting the UK’s shortfall in high quality social housing, in the short-term it is another blow for the provision of accommodation that is coming under increasing pressure from elsewhere.

Much has been made of a ‘housing crisis’ brought about by an under-supply of affordable housing and greater demand due to a growing population. Despite this, in the last six years the UK has built fewer homes than at any point since the early 1920’s.

The government has said that we are on the cusp of a ‘house building revolution’. The Conservatives recently announced a further £5billion in funding to build tens of thousands of homes within the next five years. Equally, there is a clear commitment in the sector to the provision of affordable housing with a number of new build developments currently planned. Nonetheless, those homes, and others promised throughout the last parliament, are still some time away.

Meanwhile, schemes such as the preserved Right to Buy have meant housing associations are compelled to sell their homes to any qualifying tenant who wishes to do so. This, in turn, has led to concerns about a sharp decline in social housing stock available.

A further concern is the partial withdrawal of the government’s flagship affordable home ownership schemes, including the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme which closes on 31 December 2016. As of October 2016, more than 86,000 households have used the scheme to help them onto the property ladder since its launch in 2013.

Whilst it has always been clear the government would withdraw the scheme this year, many had hoped that given its success – and the continued pressure on limited housing stock – that it would be extended.

This is certainly true of the social housing sector, where some are concerned that the withdrawal of such popular and effective avenue into private ownership will mean more people will turn to social housing instead.

Kate Bullen, a partner and commercial property solicitor at the national law firm Stephensons, said: “While there is a clear commitment from the sector to boost the provision of affordable housing, with a number of new build developments planned across the country, there will still be concern at the impact of initiatives from Westminster.

“There are currently more than 1.8 million households waiting for a affordable housing. With the increased sales of housing stock due to disposal and the Right to Buy scheme, many social housing providers will be rightly concerned by the inopportune burden that the withdrawal of  Help to Buy might  bring.”

First published by 24housing on October 20th 2016.