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Right course

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With all the speculation that goes on about the impact of government policies it is always good to get some firm figures from the Communities and Local Government department.

Unfortunately the Social housing lettings and sales in England CORE data published last week doesn’t give us any insight into how one of the coalition’s flagship housing policies is going – the revitalised right to buy.

For a start it covers 2011/12, before the increased discounts kicked in, and even more fundamentally only covers sales for housing associations. Local authority figures are available, but only for 2010/11 at the moment.

As luck would have it, Inside Housing has been carrying out its own research to get some more up to date – if a little less comprehensive – figures, and these raise some concerns. We spoke to 25 councils and found they had completed just 233 sales through the right to buy since the improved discounts began in April, despite 5,697 expressions of interest.

The CLG is putting a brave face on this, telling us it is just taking time for sales to go through, but given the prime minister wants to see 100,000 sales, there is going to have to be a lot of activity in a very short space of time.

With the coalition government approaching the midway point of its existence it may already be time to start rethinking the revitalised right to buy.

Some ideas for improving the policy include introducing a part right to buy – as advocated by Hammersmith and Fulham’s cabinet member for housing, Andrew Johnson. Others including Home Group have argued a more productive route may be to extend the policy to housing associations.

This would certainly make sense as a mechanism to increase sales. Many of the more desirable council houses have already been sold off, so extending right to buy to housing association homes would be likely to see a surge in sales.

There are of course many who oppose the policy outright, and would strongly argue against any move to increase its effectiveness. But it seems unlikely the government is going to perform a u-turn on this one. A change of course is more probable, but if ministers wait until next year’s CORE data it may be too late.

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