Council homes are being sold off almost three times faster than local authorities can replace them, new analysis has revealed, with some local authorities selling 20 times the number of homes that were built in three years.
Analysis of figures from 72 councils who responded to freedom of information requests found the mass selloff has raised more than £930m from the sale of more than 12,000 council house since 2014. In those boroughs, just 4,309 houses were built in the same time.
When the government expanded right-to-buy in 2011, ministers said they were committed to “one for one replacement”. The Department for Communities and Local Government pledged it would ensure “every home sold is replaced”. However, councils have consistently warned that they are unable to keep up with the loss of housing under right-to-buy.
London councils have sold homes in the highest numbers, given the demand for property in the capital. Kensington and Chelsea, the borough at the centre of the row over the Grenfell Tower fire, has built no new council houses since 2014 but has sold 46, netting the council more than £14.3m.
Tower Hamlets, which sold seven times as many council homes as were built over the three years, raised the most cash from the sales, just under £104m. “It takes time to find suitable building sites and procure the construction of new homes,” a spokesman said.
In Waltham Forest, 345 council houses were sold, but none have been built in the borough since 2014.
“All local authorities face a considerable challenge as a result of government policy that requires them to sell their housing stock while constraining their ability to invest in it,” a council spokesman said. “We fully support the Local Government Association’s campaign to ask government to look at this position again.”
Properties have sometimes sold for huge sums. In Wandsworth, 11 of the council houses sold at auction for over a million pounds each, though the capital raised is held for housing purposes such as new builds and estate regeneration.
Though London boroughs sold proportionally far more homes than were built, the gap is still stark elsewhere in the country. Aberdeen City council has built just 24 homes since 2014 but sold almost 20 times that number.
South Tyneside, one of the boroughs in England that has seen one of the steepest increases in levels of deprivation, has sold 417 council houses but built none.
A spokesman for the council said the problem was “changes to affordable housing grant funding, restrictions on housing revenue account borrowing and the continued risk of losing stock to right to buy.”
The council said it now uses registered providers for new affordable homes, which the council said had delivered 231 properties since 2015. Of the councils that responded, Leicester has sold the most council houses, 892 properties, which is more than seven times the number that were built.
Andy Connelly, Leicester’s assistant city mayor, said right to buy had significantly affected housing stock. “This means we are never able to meet demand for accommodation on our housing register,” he said.
“We lost £1.6m in rental income last year due to the right to buy scheme, which means less money to run our housing services. Although we get a percentage of the money from each sale, it’s not enough to allow us to replace stock on a one-to-one basis.”
Connelly said current projections predicted 1,600 new homes were needed every year in the city, but current supply was only 1,200.
“Until the government provides a fairer balance in the way that the right to buy scheme is administered, it is extremely difficult for us to replace housing stock on a one-to-one basis,” he said. “This is a common problem for local authorities up and down the country.”
The outgoing Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, whose party requested the figures, said they showed the government’s aim to replace council houses one for one had been “utter fantasy”.
“Council housing used to mean a decent home for all, now it means years on a waiting list and council houses being flogged off for over a million,” he said. “Thousands of council houses are being sold off by the Tories never to be replaced. This is devastating our social housing stock and robbing many families of a safety net.”
Farron said new safeguards and funding should ensure councils were able to replace housing stock. “The Conservative ideological crusade over right to buy is ripping the heart of communities and threatens to change the face of many towns up and down the country,” he said.
The DCLG said councils were meeting their targets, though the commitment was never to replace every right to buy sale, only additional sales under the expanded scheme from 2012.
A DCLG spokesman said: “Every additional home sold under the reinvigorated right to buy scheme must be replaced by an additional home. Local authorities should deliver these additional affordable homes within three years, and so far they have achieved this.”
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