HL Deb 09 December 2002 vol 642 cc4-6

2.43 p.m.

Baroness Maddock asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to reform the "right to buy" for social housing tenants.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, we have no plans to end the right-to-buy scheme, but we see difficulties with some aspects of the way in which the scheme is operating. We are looking at what can be done to tackle abuses and at the effects of the scheme in areas of high demand for housing.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to the Dispatch Box. I hope that I shall not give him too much of a hard time on his first outing. I declare an interest as patron, president and vice-president of various housing associations concerned with affordable housing. The number of sales under the right-to-buy scheme is three times the rate at which we are building affordable homes. In 2000–01, the annual value of discounts to tenants, under the scheme, was £1.2 million, a figure greater than the amount given in grants to housing associations to build affordable homes. Given those facts, does the Minister agree that there is an urgent need to stop the haemorrhaging through sale of affordable homes, particularly in areas of acute need? Local authorities are best placed to make decisions in that area because they write the local housing strategies. In the long term, we need to review the policy and identify a means of enabling tenants to accumulate assets, without reducing the supply of affordable housing.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, for her warm welcome.

The Government realise that there are problems. The right-to-buy scheme has attracted criticism because it reduces the social housing stock and the stock of affordable homes. The Government have indicated publicly that they are concerned about the impact of RTB sales in areas of housing pressure and that they will take action to address it. Also, the rules are being abused. In particular, companies build up portfolios of ex-council properties by entering into deferred resale deals.

Measures for changing RTB must be evidence-based and targeted. The Government have therefore commissioned research by Heriot-Watt University into the scale, nature and impact of the exploitation. The results of that survey are expected shortly and will be published thereafter. They will help the Government to move forward with their new policies.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government have plans to change the right to buy in respect of properties specially adapted for people with disabilities?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I repeat the absolute blanket commitment given by my noble friend Lord Rooker. A mere 10 days ago, he said that we were not planning any change in the right to buy. If there were to be any exceptions to that, he would have made that clear when he spoke at the Empty Homes Agency conference on 29th November.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, from these Benches, I welcome the Minister to his new role. We are delighted to see him.

Does he agree that home ownership on estates where properties have been sold into private hands—whether to first buyers or second buyers—has resulted in greater involvement of occupants in the maintenance of standards and security on such estates?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, for her warm welcome. I agree with the statement she has just made. The more community awareness there is, in the regions and in London, the better the estates are.

Baroness Pitkeathley

My Lords, I am sure the House was glad to hear my noble friend's expression of the Government's concern about the shortage of social housing. It is a particular concern in rural areas. Have the Government any plans to tackle the problem?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, we recognise the importance of affordable housing in maintaining balanced and successful rural communities. We have already taken substantial measures to help to alleviate housing pressures in rural communities, as outlined in the rural White Paper. Through increased Housing Corporation investment and subject to local authorities' investment decisions and use of planning powers, we expect to deliver 9,000 affordable homes in rural areas annually by 2003–04. That will include 3,000 in small rural settlements.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, it will come as a welcome surprise to many of us to hear the Minister say that any change in policy must be evidence-based. Given that he made that remark—it is, I hope, a. view that he will sustain throughout his career in the Government—can the Minister say whether the Government have any evidence as to the time the original owners of right-to-buy properties remain in those dwellings?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, my naive view is that any change of policy that is not evidence-based is probably a mistake.

A noble Lord

You won't last!

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

Right! In answer to the noble Lord's second point, I do not have the figures. If I can obtain them I shall happily write to the noble Lord. When we talk about abuse of the right-to-buy policy, we are talking about a comparatively small number of people. We can assume that the right to buy has helped many thousands of ordinary people to realise their aspirations to own their own homes and create mixed-income communities.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on his new responsibilities. Do the Government have plans to introduce schemes to enable tenants of social properties to move into home ownership?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, if my noble friend is referring to the right to acquire, I can tell him that that facility is available in 50 per cent of local authorities. However, the take-up has been small; about 70 sales since 1997.