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Housing in the United Kingdom has over the last century attracted resource support from its government that is determined to ensure its citizens get affordable and decent shelters. Notably, most of the policies developed over the years concentrated on narrow and quantitative strategies that aimed at eliminating any economic barriers crippling the ability to own a home. There have been increasingly different mixed approaches adopted by the nation that primarily advocated for low-income costs that could help in subsidizing the cost (History Extra 2018, n.p). Considerably, as a developed economy, Britain has over the last two decades experienced increasing problems in their housing sector that has been propagated by aspects such as cost, growing population, land availability and changing life styles. To limit these challenges, different approaches have been implemented to not only increase the ability of their citizens to buy or own a house but also to increase the overall supply of this basic human need. As such, this study will concentrate on some of the most prominent housing policies developed in the U.K. including the ‘right to buy’ regulation.
Housing in the U.K
The availability and affordability of houses in the United Kingdom have been a growing problem over the last two decades. Although the government of the country has implemented different policies to help in curbing this challenge, the issue remains a limiting factor in growing the nation’s economy. Factors such as changing lifestyles, growing population and unavailability of land have been instrumental in elevating these problems. With the increasing demand and less supply, the overall rent charged in the available houses has sharply increased. This has, in turn, led to increasing pressures on the available, affordable homes in every part of the country including both major towns and rural areas.
To combat this growing trend, the U.K. government intends supporting the development of more than 3 million houses in different parts of the country by 2020. To achieve this objective a minimum of 240,000 new homes should be constructed annually (Hilber 2015, n.p). The adoption of this approach reflects the revival of a similar initiative that was in play in the country between the First World War and 1970s. Throughout the entire period, the government had increased its housing budget allocation to combat the rising rate of urbanization, unfettered markets, and growing population. Although it faced different setbacks including resistance from property owners, it successfully launched the projects that later aided in eradicating slums out of the country (Wilson, Barton, and Smith 2017, n.p). As part of eliminating this recurrent problem, different policies have been implemented over the years including the right to buy, stock transfer and compulsory competitive tendering. All these frameworks utilized varying approaches but aimed at improving both ownership and renting of shelters.
The Right to Buy Policy
The right to buy housing policy in the United Kingdom was formulated to help in subsidizing and reducing both the purchase and fixed prices through enabling higher loan to value ratios as well as offering affordable credit terms that could allow individuals from poor or low-income backgrounds to purchase public houses. The act was introduced as the housing act of 1980 and was to be implemented by the local authorities rather than the conservative councils (Beckett 2015, n.p). The discount of purchase offered under the provisions of this regulation ranged from 33% for some of the council tenants that had three or more years of tenancy and 50% for those that had more than twenty years (Disney and Luo 2016, n.p). Moreover, it was the duty of local authorities to avail loans on any potential customer that wanted to purchase a house subject to a standardized age limit and income capabilities. However, the policy required that the discount would be payable upon selling the property within the first five years of policy purchase. Additionally, recently developed houses were to be sold in more than their cost of construction to enable enough revenue to support the continuity of the project.
However, upon formulation, many people believed that these regulations were strict and refrained them from purchasing their desired houses. As such, some of the conditions were further relaxed to include reduced cost floor and increase the average discount offered to potential buyers. The effect of RTB policy was however seen in the mid-2000s when most of the U.K citizens started nursing it to acquire homes (Disney and Luo 2016, n.p). This was propelled by different factors including the changing economic conditions and attainment of the residency requirements. The discount rates offered under this policy favored most of the U.K residents considering the increasing rent and stagnant income levels that limited their ability to attain quality living and supporting other basic needs. As such, more than 2.8 million people were able to acquire decent houses under RTB by 2007.
Notably, the policy was instrumental in helping different groups of people in the country including the ex-council tenants and the general public. To the former, the group was empowered to purchase properties at subsidized prices that increased their ability to personal development. Furthermore, the policy made them responsible for financing their mortgage and the maintenance of their private assets (Beckett 2015, n.p). That is, increased default to pay the installments required would result in them losing the property. This helped in increasing accountability and promoting desirable ethical behaviors in the sector.
To the public, the policy helped in increasing the ability of the government to offer affordable housing and reduce exploitation from private investors. Notably, about 25% of the local proceeds from the sales of this property was transferred to the local government while the rest was considered as reserved receipt and transferred to the council housing stock (Disney and Luo 2017, p.56). This helped in not only empowering the local leadership to constantly maintain these properties but also enabled the national government to develop effective housing plans. Therefore, the right to buy housing policy provided the foundation of solving the housing crisis in the United Kingdom and allowed both the local and federal government to identify alternative ways of solving this crisis and helping low-income earners to get decent shelters.
Since the late 1980s, the use of stock transfer housing policy in the United Kingdom has had a great impact in the U.K housing sector. Notably, this policy requires the transfer of ownership of a given property, particularly houses, from the council housing to the housing association. Originally, the program began in rural England and generated a substantial amount of capital for the government. Alternatively, this aspect can be explained as the voluntary transfer of total ownership of part or all local authority leasehold or tenanted houses to a private service provider for payment of similar value in return (Department for Communities and Local Government 2013, p 4).
The government of the U.K has over the years emphasized on this policy to encourage the availability of more affordable housing, to promote local economic activity and to secure a promising future for both neighborhoods and estates through complying with the decent housing standards. Moreover, the primary objective of adopting this framework is to help in improving and refurbishing some of the worn out and vacant houses rather than demolishing them to save on the overall cost of providing affordable shelters. As such, the government also aids in supporting these transfers as a long-term vision to maintain local growth and to support its subjects to get proper houses. It has further promised to explore additional options that would encourage both private investors and tenants to make these goals their own to promote the overall growth of the country economy.
However, there exists a laid down process that guides the transfer and has to be adhered to by all the parties involved and the approval of the secretary of state issued. To facilitate easy implementation of its regulations, both the government and its different agencies have different tasks. For instance, the department of communities and local government (DCLG) helps in interpreting different policies of the framework, assessing transfer applications and considering if the consent to transfer should be granted by the secretary. The Greater London Authority (GLA) homes and community agency (HCA) is tasked with conducting initial transfer discussions, approving tenant information, managing transfer process and discussing the viability of the registered private investors (Department for Communities and Local Government 2013, p 5). Considering these aspects, the stock transfer housing policy adopted by Britain’s government primarily aims at reducing the government’s cost to maintain the already constructed houses. By incorporating third parties in the process, it ensures that its citizens will benefit from adequately maintained and affordable homes.
U.K housing sector has experienced a significant transformation over the years with increased government involvement in regulating some of the aspects. The establishment of the various policies including right to buy and stock transfer has been instrumental in expanding the development of affordable shelters in the country. Considerably, the government should implement measures that would ensure provision of mixed economy housing that will be able to accommodate its population’s aspirations as well as private property ownership. Since the desire to own partly the cause of the housing crisis in the country, outing high pressure on the increase of supply may not be the ultimate solution to the problem. Additionally, the demand for proper housing has tremendously increased in the country, and it is upon the government to develop appropriate strategies that would help in reducing this negative trend. With the rigid planning system and fiscal centralization aspects, it is increasingly difficult for both local and central administration to implement more policies in the nation. However, the previously enacted regulations have been successful in laying a viable foundation that can support future frameworks to improve the sector. Tenants thus have varying options on how to own or rent houses both in urban and rural areas.
Beckett, A. (2015). The right to buy: the housing crisis that Thatcher built. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/aug/26/right-to-buy-margaret-thatcher-david-cameron-housing-crisis
Department for Communities and Local Government. (2013). Housing Transfer Manual , 4–33. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/583402/Housing_Transfer_Manual_-_Period_to_31_March_2015_archived.pdf
Disney, R. and Luo, G., (2016). The right to buy public housing in Britain: a welfare analysis (No. W16/20). IFS Working Papers.
Disney, R. and Luo, G., (2017). The Right to buy public housing in Britain: A welfare analysis. Journal of Housing Economics, 35, pp.51-68.
Hilber, C.A., (2015). UK Housing and Planning Policies: the evidence from economic research.
History Extra. (2018). The housing crisis: what can we learn from history? Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.historyextra.com/period/the-housing-crisis-what-can-we-learn-from-history/
Wilson, W., Barton, C. and Smith, L., (2017). Tackling the under-supply of housing in England.
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