Right to Buy? Has it caused a crisis for the boomerangs?

I grew up in a council house; it was perfect in every way and was very much my home. It had ample space, a lovely garden and was in a quiet, rural area. With the introduction of the Right to Buy scheme to the UK in the 80s, my parents were finally able to purchase their own home.

The policy gave secure tenants the right to buy the council house they lived in, at a large discount. 

The Right to Buy scheme has been controversial since its introduction in 1980. Many argued that it amounted to distorted house prices and contributed to the housing crisis. Supporters felt it gave the working class the opportunity to own their own home.

The first right to buy home was in Essex and Margaret Thatcher personally handed over the deeds. It was purchased for £8,315 with a deposit of £5 in August 1980. By 1982 over 200,000 council houses were sold to tenants, and by 1987 this had increased to more than 1,000,000 in the UK. Take up dropped in the early 90s due to the recession.

While this was a financial positive for so many new homeowners, the scheme has been claimed to be one of the major factors in the reduction of social housing available in the UK. In 1979 there were around 6.5 million units and this drastically fell to 2 million in 2017.

With rising house prices, and a fall in social housing, many young adults are becoming part of the ‘boomerang generation’ (those who choose to stay in their parent’s home, or come back to live with their parents due to financial reasons).

Research by the Resolution Foundation found that the decline in social renting by young families has coincided with rising levels of ‘housing stress’; a situation where the cost of housing is high compared to a household income.


Due to the impact of right to buy, and the effect it was having on social housing stock, Scotland and Wales brought in their own acts to abolish the scheme.

In 2014, The Housing (Scotland) Act, abolished the right to buy.‘The SNP abolished the right to buy in order to protect and enhance social housing and to protect the investment made in social housing over many generations.’

Then in January 2019, Right to Buy also ended in Wales. The Welsh Government stated that ‘Our social housing is a valuable resource, but it is under considerable pressure. The size of housing stock has declined significantly since 1980 when the Right to Buy was introduced. The number of homes lost through the Right to Buy is equivalent to 45% of the social housing stock.’

The future?

Currently, not all housing association tenants are able to buy the home they are living in. The ‘Right to Acquire’ enables tenants to apply to buy as long as their property is eligible.

On 16 August 2018, the Government launched a pilot project in the Midlands, committing to extending the Right to Buy to tenants of housing associations on a voluntary basis.

According to Inside Housing, ‘despite tenants securing properties through the Midlands pilot, it is in doubt whether the system will be rolled out more widely after the government scrapped a plan to force councils to sell off their most expensive homes, which was intended to fund the full policy.’

Melanie Rees, head of policy and external affairs at the Chartered Institute of Housing, believes Right to Buy should be scrapped in England. Her blog in Mortgage Strategy stated that ‘Our analysis shows that more than 165,000 of the most affordable rented homes have been lost across England in just six years. We are predicting that loss will reach 199,000 by 2020.’

‘That is why we believe the time is right to suspend it, to stem the loss of homes for social rent, which are often the only genuine affordable option for people on lower incomes.’

You only have to tap in ‘housing crisis 2019’ and you will have no trouble in finding negative news around home ownership, social housing and expensive rentals in the UK. With an ageing population, the ever-growing need for affordable homes is only going to grow.

National Housing Federation has stated that ‘latest figures for affordable housing is positive, and that with the right Government support housing associations can and do build the affordable homes we desperately need.’

Let’s hope that trend continues…