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The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced a new plan to boost the capital’s supply of council homes. 

The Mayor’s new Right to Buy-back fund will give boroughs the funds to purchase former council homes that have been sold into the private market through the Government’s Right to Buy programme. 

Right to Buy, part of the 1980 Housing Act, gave council tenants who had lived in their house for more than three years the chance to buy their property at a price substantially below market rate. Since the Act’s introduction more than 300,000 London council homes have been sold. 

While the number of Right to Buy sales has been declining in recent years, the policy continues to have a negative impact on the overall number of council homes in London. It also doesn’t appear to be fulfilling its original mandate of boosting owner occupation, with four in ten now rented on the private market – sometimes back to the very council that was forced to sell the home in order to house homeless families. 

The Mayor’s Right to Buy-back scheme will make money available to help councils and council-owned housing companies acquire homes that will then be let at social rent levels or used as accommodation for homeless families. All homes purchased through this scheme must meet the Government’s Decent Homes Standard. With more and more small landlords selling or planning to sell their properties due to changes in tax laws, the Mayor believes it would be far better for these homes to be sold back to the council than to larger private landlords.

Over the last forty years councils have lost both the funding and expertise they require to build more council homes, but this is finally now changing with the Mayor overseeing a renaissance in council housing. Sadiq has committed to helping London’s councils start building council homes again with his ‘Building Council Homes for Londoners’ funding programme, which is on track to help boroughs start 10,000 new council homes between 2018 and 2023. More homes at social rent levels were started or acquired in London than all other regions of England in 2020/21. In 2019/20, councils started over 4,390 homes in London – the highest number since 1983. 

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: “For more than 40 years, London’s precious council homes have been disappearing into the private sector, often never to be replaced. It’s time for

that to change. “We’re not only helping councils to build thousands of new council homes, but we’re giving them the resources to buy back former council homes through our Right to Buy-back scheme. In the midst of a housing affordability crisis it feels grossly unfair and unjust that more than four in ten council homes sold through the Right to Buy in London are now in the hands of private landlords. These were, after all, homes built for the public good. 

“I am proud that we have brought council homebuilding back up to levels not seen since the 1980s and I’m encouraged by the enthusiasm I see from boroughs across London for building new council homes. Fixing the housing crisis is going to take time, but this new Right to Buy-back scheme is an innovative new tool that will help to take another step in the right direction.”

Boosting the supply of council housing is a vital part of the Mayor’s plan to tackle the capital’s devastating housing crisis. A lack of council homes has left thousands of housing benefit claimants on borough waiting lists, often in temporary accommodation and forced to pay unaffordable rents to private landlords. As of December 2020, there were more than 60,000 households living in temporary accommodation in London. Research undertaken by the London Assembly in 2019 highlighted that if every housing benefit claimant in London who lived in the private rented sector lived in a council home instead, there would be a saving of £938,810,772 per year in housing benefit (1). 

Cllr Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council, said: “In Camden we are proud to be challenging a national failed approach to tackling homelessness by buying back homes that we have been forced to sell off through years of damaging right to buy policy, and using them to house homeless families in need of temporary accommodation in our borough. 

“Since July 2019, Camden has repurchased 61 former council properties and we plan to purchase a further 80 through £35M of additional investment into our Temporary Accommodation Purchase Programme. This is vital investment that is helping to deliver more high quality, temporary accommodation for those who need it most. It is also helping our vulnerable families to stay within the borough, with their communities, close to their schools and networks, as we support them to move into long term settled accommodation. 

“Camden, like much of London, has found itself at the sharp end of the housing affordability crisis and, as we rebuild from the devastating impact of Covid-19, there has been no greater time for change. We welcome the Mayor’s announcement and look forward to working with the Mayor as other boroughs join Camden in reclaiming decades of lost social housing for Londoners.”