Boris Johnson slammed over ‘hare-brained’ Thatcher-style plan to sell off housing association homes

Government proposals to sell off housing association properties have been branded “hare-brained” as experts warn they will worsen the shortage of homes for more than a million Britons on waiting lists for affordable accommodation.

Andrew Woodcock

Boris Johnson reportedly wants to grant up to 2.5 million housing association tenants in England the right to purchase their homes at a massive discount, echoing Margaret Thatcher’s popular “right to buy” policy of the 1980s which saw a huge proportion of the nation’s stock of council homes sold.

But Labour branded the plan “desperate”, pointing out that it repeats a policy from David Cameron’s 2015 Conservative Party manifesto which failed to deliver.

And the chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter said the “hare-brained idea” was “the opposite of what the country needs”.

“There could not be a worse time to sell off what remains of our last truly affordable social homes,” said Polly Neate.

“The living cost crisis means more people are on the brink of homelessness than homeownership – nearly 34,000 households in England became homeless between October and December last year, more than 8,000 of them were families with children.”

Ms Neate said the original Right to Buy scheme tore “a massive hole” in England’s stock of social housing, as less than 5 per cent of the homes sold were ever replaced with new affordable homes to rent.

“These half-baked plans have been tried before and they’ve failed,” she said. “Over 1 million households are stuck on social housing waiting lists in England, and with every bill skyrocketing, the government should be building more social homes so we have more not less.”

Details of the scheme were floated just days ahead of local elections in which the Tories are thought to be heading for a drubbing – and during the period of “purdah” when government departments are banned from policy announcements that may impact voting.

An unnamed government source said Mr Johnson was keen to find ways of helping the “generation rent” of under-forties who have been priced out of the housing market.

Conservatives have long viewed homeownership as a key sell for the party, and Tory strategists are concerned at the prospect of a generation growing up without any stake in the housing market.

“The prime minister has got very excited about this,” the source told the Daily Telegraph. “It could be hugely significant. In many ways, it is a direct replica of the great Maggie idea of ‘buy your own council flat’. It is ‘buy your own housing association flat’.”

But shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said it is “desperate stuff from a tired government, repackaging a plan from 2015”. She added: “Millions of families in the private rented sector with low savings and facing sky-high costs and rising bills need far more ambitious plans to help them buy their own home. These proposals would worsen the shortage of affordable homes.”

And the chief executive of the Demos think tank, Polly Mackenzie, said the proposals would disadvantage some groups of younger voters the Tories need to attract.

“Right to Buy offers huge financial benefits to those who qualify for social housing while providing nothing for those – often young professionals – who pay much higher rents in less secure private tenancies,” she said. “Half of tenants are in the social sector and half in the private … I cannot fathom the politics – let alone the justice – of helping one group with a subsidy of up to £100,000, while offering the others only a tiddly Help to Buy ISA and equity loans that have to be repaid.

She added: “Those who got by on their own, and never had to fall back on state housing, get the worst deal. Extending Right to Buy is a really good way to p*** off young renters, a group the Conservatives really need to stop letting down.”

“Instead of copying and pasting from old manifestos, Boris Johnson should be helping families on the brink,” Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Christine Jardine said. “Instead of talking up policies of the past, Boris Johnson should be slashing taxes right now and ensuring every pensioner can afford to heat their home.”

A government spokesperson defended the proposals. “We want everyone to be given the chance to own a home of their own, and we keep all options to increase homeownership under review,” they said. “Recent statistics show that the annual number of first-time buyers is at a two-year high, helped by our Help to Buy scheme for first-time buyers and Mortgage Guarantee scheme to expand the availability of low-deposit mortgages.”