HM Insights

Scottish lessons on extending Right to Buy to housing associations

The Conservative Party's anouncement that, if still in power after the General Election, it will extend the Right to Buy (RTB) to up to 1.3 million housing association tenants in England, could scarcely present a starker contrast to the position in Scotland, where legislation to abolish the RTB entirely is already on the statute books.

In Scotland (where housing is a devolved matter) the RTB will end on 1st August 2016, by virtue of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014, passed by the current SNP-controlled Scottish Parliament. This Act is the final nail in the coffin of a statutory entitlement which has been progressively eroded and limited in recent years. The apparent high point for the operation of the policy in Scotland was probably in 2002 when the then Labour-controlled Scottish Executive extended the RTB to cover tenants of Scottish housing associations.

Before then it was generally only Council tenants who had the RTB but, at the same time as the introduction of the Scottish secure tenancy across the Scottish social housing sector, tenants of registered social landlords (RSLs) were given a "modernised RTB". The effect of this modernised RTB was, however, limited from the outset. While RSL tenants became eligible to buy their home in theory, albeit at less attractive discounts compared to those who already had the RTB, the ability of most RSL tenants to actually exercise the RTB was postponed by law for a period of 10 years. This moratorium was intended to give RSLs time to adjust and prepare for the impact of this modernised RTB on their housing stock, and when it was due to expire in 2012, Scottish Government invited RSLs to apply to extend the moratorium for another 10 years, which all RSLs gladly did.

In reality, therefore, this extension of the RTB to housing association tenants had a very limited effect. Other than in specific limited exceptions, including stock transfers and in the case of houses built by RSLs after 2002, most RSL tenants have only ever had a contingent right to buy their home. And since 2002, further restrictions to the RTB have been progressively phased in, including a cap on discounts, longer qualifying occupancy periods, an exemption for new-build social housing, and the ineligibility of tenants entering the social housing sector for the first time or after a break.

These changes, culminating in the proposed final abolition, have been met with broad support across most of the Scottish political spectrum (other than the Scottish Conservatives), so while David Cameron may be hoping that a re-run of one of Margaret Thatcher's greatest hits will prove to be popular in England, Scotland is very unlikely to see a resurrection of this particular policy.

Derek Hogg is the Head of Public Sector & Housing at Harper Macleod and acts on behalf of many of the country's registered social landlords. You can contact him on 0141 227 9297 or email [email protected].

A version of this article originally appeared on Inside Housing.