Camden council spent £2.5 million repurchasing homes sold under Right to Buy

Right to Buy came into effect one year after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in the Housing

Right to Buy came into effect one year after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in the Housing Act 1980 under Minister for the Environment, Michael Heseltine (left) - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A shortage of social housing has seen the council forced to buy back homes sold off in the 1980s under Right to Buy, at almost five times the price

The BBC has revealed that Camden council spent over £2.5 million buying back homes sold under Right to Buy to try to alleviate chronic housing shortages. The then popular scheme was established under Margaret Thatcher in 1980, enabling council house tenants to purchase their homes starting at a 33 per cent discount off market value.

A Freedom of Information request by the corporation showed that Camden bought back 29 homes sold between 1989 and 2005 at a huge mark up. One property in Camden’s N19 postcode was bought back in 2001 for £175,000 having been sold in 1989 for £47,450. Another home in N4 was originally sold in 2002 for £64,000 at a discount of £38,000, and bought back in January last year for £302,820, marking a percentage change of 373 per cent between buy back and sale cost.

Demand is high, with council house waiting lists in Camden rising for four consecutive years since 2011 according to the BBC, and a lack of social housing forcing councils to repurchase homes in response.

According to Land Registry data the average house price in Camden was £120,933 in January 1995, compared to an average of £832,191 in February 2017. That’s almost seven times the price, or a 588.14 per cent increase, with the already stretched council footing the bill.

In 2015, Shelter revealed that Camden sold off 265 homes annually at a value of £161,715,746 as part of its campaign against government action to force councils to sell vacant low rent homes in high value areas to fund the extension of Right to Buy to housing association tenants. The housing charity said that 49.8 per cent of Camden’s council housing would be sold into private hands due to the scheme.

The borough is facing a crisis of affordability in which the council has to buy back homes at a loss, and is forced to sell off others to private investors to develop luxury new builds, which could have been used as genuinely affordable housing.

Camden Councillor Pat Callaghan, cabinet member for housing, said that the council is taking action to alleviate the pressure caused by the dearth of affordable homes. She said: “We’re taking on the London housing crisis by building the first council housing in a generation. We intend to build over 1,000 council homes – but with 5,000 people on our waiting list, we need Government backing to fully meet our residents’ needs.”

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The Camden Community Investment programme promises to build 3,050 new homes, 1,400 of which will be affordable, and invest in schools and community facilities through the sale of private homes, buildings and land deemed superfluous. The 15 year master plan will renovate existing council homes as part of the Better Homes Programme. Council controlled Camden Living ensures homes built are affordable through intermediate rent, at rates above social rent but below market value. According to the CIP website, 277 homes have been completed, including 131 affordable homes for local residents, with building works in progress at six sites.

Today, council house tenants can buy their homes for a maximum discount of £104,900 in London, increasing each year in accordance with the consumer price index. Discounts vary according to the value of your home, type of property and length of tenancy. Camden council offers a discretionary buy back scheme for leaseholders in financial difficulties who cannot afford owner occupation.

A chronic lack of investment in social housing is putting services and the housing market under pressure as prices outweigh the rate of wage increases, with properties in Camden now costing 19 times the median household income according to the Camden Equality Taskforce.

“No single piece of legislation has enabled the transfer of so much capital wealth from the state to the people,” said Michael Heseltine on the passing of the Housing Act 1980. That’s certainly true of those who took advantage of the scheme, but what’s needed now is a commitment to truly affordable housing that outlasts its aims as a temporary vote-winner and boosts supply of social and affordable housing that tracks the consistent growth in demand else Camden locals and young people will be priced out of the area for good.