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An unabashed extension of the Thatcherite right to buy for 1.3m families in housing association properties will be at the centre of an aspirational Tory manifesto launched on Tuesday in the West Country.
The pledge is expected to see tens of thousands of housing association tenants a year take up a discount on buying a housing association property that will be capped at just over £102,700 in London and £77,000 for the rest of England.
Cameron made his pitch to the nation saying the dream of the property owning democracy is alive, and that the Conservatives “are the party of working people, offering you security at every stage of your life”.
It will also be accompanied by a requirement that councils sell their most valuable 210,000 properties from their remaining housing stock. Critics will claim councils are being forced to sell their best property, and reducing council property in England into residual housing for the poor as a result.
The Conservative manifesto was published a day after a surprise Guardian ICM poll found the Tories surging into a six-point lead, taking David Cameron’s party to 39% with Labour on 33%.
Most recent polls show Labour with a slight lead or tied with theConservatives, including a Lord Ashcroft survey also published on Monday that put both parties on 33%.
However, the ICM telephone poll conducted between Friday and Sunday reports that the Conservatives have gained three points while Labour is down by two points in the last month.
The poll will steady nerves among Tories worried that the relentless focus on the twin issues of leadership and the economy was not cutting through.
The offer on the right to buy, coupled with the proposal to cut inheritance tax trailed over the weekend, will also help counter the claim that Cameron, by focusing so much on Labour, has not set out a positive vision of a second term.
The proposed discount will be worth 35% for a house after a housing association tenant has been in the house for three years with the value of the discount rising 1% for every extra year the tenant has rented in the public sector. In the case of a flat, the discount will be worth 50% after the first three years, rising by 2% each year afterwards.
Councils will also be required to sell about 5% of their remaining council stock. These most-valuable properties will only be sold once they became vacant, and once sold, councils will be required to build a more affordable, cheaper property on a one-for-one basis.
The government expects around 15,000 of these high value council properties will become vacant annually, and proceeds from these sales will release £4.5bn a year – cash that will not only build new affordable property, but also fund the proposed discounts to tenants, creating a £1bn brownfield regeneration fund that will produce 400,000 new houses over five years.
Housing associations have opposed previous versions of these proposals and the requirement that councils sell their most-expensive properties will also be resisted by some local authorities angry that mixed-tenancy council housing is being turned into estates for the poor.
The Conservatives deny the policy undermines housing associations since they will receive the full market value of the sold property, with the government paying the discount to the housing association tenant through the income provided by the sale of expensive council house properties.
The Conservatives have been urging councils to sell their most expensive property ever since a report by the Policy Exchange thinktank argued nearly a fifth of the 4m houses and flats let to social tenants in England are worth more than comparable houses in the same area — a total of 818,000 properties throughout the country.
But the Conservatives claimed the proposal has the support of the Labour MP Frank Field, and Alan Milburn, the government’s social mobility tsar.
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, has previously warned that the idea of selling off social housing in “high value” areas to build more in cheaper areas is fundamentally flawed.
“It could effectively cleanse many towns of hard-working people who simply can’t afford the high prices of buying or renting privately.”
A total of 800,000 housing association tenants that have transferred from council property already have a limited right to a discount, but the new offer will extend the right to buy to 500,000 tenants that have no right to buy at all.
The proposals were also slammed by Ruth Davison, policy director at the National Housing Federation. She said: “It won’t help the millions of people in private rented homes who are desperate to buy but have no hope of doing so, nor the 3 million adult children living with their parents because they can’t afford to rent or buy.
“To use their taxes to gift as much as £100,000 to someone already living in a good quality home is deeply unfair. Little wonder then that 60% of the public believe that it would be unfair for social housing tenants to get a discount to buy their home while private renters do not.”
Liberal Democrat spokesman Lord Paddick said the right-to-buy proposal would result in “longer waiting lists for homes and fewer social houses”.
He said: “It does nothing to tackle the country’s affordable housing needs and will only benefit the lucky few. Independent estimates suggest this could cost at least £5.8bn, nowhere near covered by forcing councils to sell off yet more housing stock, as the Conservatives suggest. That means it will have to be paid for by even more cuts hitting the most vulnerable in society.”
Conservative to offer 1.3m families right to buy housing association homes
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