Forced council sales: a small amendment that makes things a whole lot worse

They look like such an innocuous series of little amendments. But the most recent proposed government changes to the Housing and Planning Bill could make the potential impact of the forced council sales policy go from bad to worse.

You can find the amendments I’m talking about here. They do two things.

First, they change what’s under consideration for sale from ‘high’ value council homes to ‘higher’ value council homes.

That might not sound like much, but it gives the government latitude to consider a much broader range of homes for sale. That’s because it changes the emphasis from homes that are high by some sort of objective measure, to a relative measure – homes that are ‘higher’ value relative to something else.

It’s like saying that someone is the ‘taller’ of two siblings. They still might be very short in the grand scheme of things. Likewise, a ‘higher’ value council home might still be a pretty low price home in the grand scheme of things. So many more homes are implicitly brought into scope by this smallest of changes.

Which is how it interacts with the second, and arguably more important, bit: how the amendment says the government will be empowered to define what values are judged against – what they are higher than.

And the big worry is that this amendment empowers the Secretary of State to define relatively higher value homes by reference solely to the other homes that a council owns.

If you recall back to this policy when it was originally proposed, it was said that:

“Local authority properties that rank among the most expensive third of all properties of that type in their area – including private housing – will be sold off and replaced with new affordable housing on a one for one basis”

But this amendment will allow the Secretary of State to require councils to sell more than just those that fall into the top third in an area. It will allow them to require councils to sell all the most expensive homes that they own, even if they aren’t expensive relative to other local homes.

So instead of the government going to councils and effectively saying:

“You must sell every home that is one of the top third most expensive homes in your area”

They may instead effectively say, for example:

“You must sell your third most expensive homes.”

That would mean many more councils in cheaper areas, with cheaper housing who previously thought they weren’t going to be required to sell homes by the government could now be forced to sell.

Of course, this amendment doesn’t mean that the Secretary of State will exercise the power, but it would give them the power. And with such little information coming out of government on the implementation of the policy this will be a worrying development for anyone who has concerns about the effect of forced sales.

I’ve put together an example of how a council might be affected in the slider below, so you can see what I mean about how this amendment could bring more council homes into scope for sale. Just drag the slider from left to right to see the before and after effect.