The History of Council Housing

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8 The Impact of the ‘Right to Buy’

From the 1970s councils built increasingly fewer homes, concentrating instead on repairs to their now aging housing stock. The introduction of the ‘Right to Buy’ under the Housing Act 1980 was a watershed event for councils all over the country. From the start local authorities have been able to sell off their houses, but until the introduction of the RTB they were not forced to do so. Up until this time mostly the production of new homes exceeded the numbers sold, however following the passing of this policy, the period of growth halted and began a decline. Largely it led to many of the better quality council properties being purchased by tenants who qualified for the right to buy. The number of houses managed by London’s councils had shrunk from 840,000 in 1984 to just over 500,000 by the end of the century. Another impact of the right to buy was that the majority of dwellings that were sold were houses rather than flats. So the right to buy has reduced the supply of family houses and altered the balance of council housing stock in the country. 
Nationally 1 million houses were sold within 10 years. Spending restrictions were also introduced at the same time which that it was no longer possible to build new houses in large numbers. After fifty years of virtually uninterrupted growth, the numbers of council houses began to fall, and have continued to do so ever since. Discounts available to tenants under the Right to Buy of up to 60 per cent off the market price meant that good houses could be purchased for less than £10,000 in the early 1980s; they are now likely to be worth £150,000 or more. So for many people the right to buy has been a great benefit.
But for some purchasers and the Council, however, it caused severe problems. In 1981 it began to be revealed that there were major structural problems with some types of concrete houses (referred to as PRCs). Several types of the PRCs had problems caused with corrosion of the metal reinforcing bars in their concrete structure. This made them unmortgageable and therefore people who had bought these sorts of houses found that they were effectively impossible to resell. There are approximately 140,000 cases nationally. The Housing Defects Act, 1984, gave buyers of certain types of PRC houses the right to insist that the Council carry out the work necessary to repair or rebuild their houses.
©2008 University of the West of England, Bristol
except where acknowledged
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