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Increasingly divergent Right to Buy policies

The devolution of housing policy to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is resulting in increasingly diverse approaches in certain areas – the Right to Buy is one such policy area.

England – incentivising and extending the Right to Buy

The statutory Right to Buy scheme was first introduced by the Housing Act 1980. The Act gave qualifying council tenants the Right to Buy their home at a discount. The scheme has been subject to various amendments over the intervening years, including several changes to the qualifying period as a tenant and the level of discount available. In England the current Right to Buy scheme is governed by the Housing Act 1985 (as amended).

The 2010 Coalition Government ‘incentivised’ the Right to Buy in England. Key policy changes included the abolition of regional variations in maximum discounts and a significant increase in the maximum discount available, together with a reduction in the qualifying period. The Government’s stated aim was to increase the number of tenants exercising the Right to Buy.

The Conservative Party’s 2015 Manifesto included a commitment to “extend the Right to Buy to tenants in Housing Associations to enable more people to buy a home of their own.” An offer developed by the National Housing Federation (the representative body of housing associations) was accepted by the 2015 Government and work began to extend the Right to Buy to assured tenants of housing associations on a voluntary, rather than a statutory, basis. No implementation date for the roll-out of the voluntary scheme was announced before the 2017 General Election.

Scotland and Wales restrict and abolish the Right to Buy

In contrast, the Scottish Government has restricted the Right to Buy and legislated to abolish it completely in 2014. Eligible tenants had up to 31 July 2016 to exercise their Right to Buy.

The Welsh Government has also decided to abolish the Right to Buy. The Abolition of the Right to Buy and Associated Rights (Wales) Bill was introduced on 13 March 2017 and is now progressing through the Assembly.

Northern Ireland – no current plans to extend or restrict the Right to Buy

Northern Ireland has a Right to Buy scheme (the House Sales Scheme) in place for both Housing Executive (the largest social housing provider) and housing association tenants, and has a qualifying tenancy period of five years. At the time of writing, no plans to extend or restrict the scheme have been announced.

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