By Claire West

Selling off social housing worth more than the average property in each region could create the largest social house building programme since the 1970s.

A new report — Ending Expensive Social Tenancies — by leading think tank Policy Exchange recommends selling off expensive social housing when it becomes vacant. This would generate £4.5billion annually which could be used to build 80,000-170,000 new social homes a year and reduce the housing waiting list by between 250,000 to 600,000 households in five years.

The report found:

Expensive social housing accounts for over a fifth (21.8%) of the total social housing stock in the UK. This equates to 816,000 out of a total of 3.78 million properties.

London has the highest proportion of stock (30.7%) and the North East contains the lowest (14.8%)*

The total value of expensive social housing is £159 billion. London contains social housing worth £71.9bn while the North East has £4.4bn worth of expensive social housing stock

Approximately 3.5% of this stock becomes vacant a year due to people moving out or dying. This means that the government could sell a total of 28,500 properties on the open market each year. This raises £5.5 billion a year.

After paying off the debt held against the stock, the total figure raised is £4.5billion.

The report argues that many hard working people might want to live in a nicer area or in a bigger house but simply cannot afford to. Allowing one family to live in expensive social housing means leaving many other people on the housing waiting list.

The report argues for a regional cap on the value of social properties similar to the Housing Benefit cap, adjusted for bedroom size, (up to four bedrooms). For example, a three bed social property in London could not be more valuable than the average three bed London property.

The report says that ending expensive social housing:

Will generate growth and jobs. This reform should allow 80-170,000 new homes every year. This would create 160,000-340,000 jobs a year in the construction industry.

Is extremely popular with all sections of society. 73% of people including social tenants think that people should not be given council houses worth more than the average property in a local authority. By 2:1 voters agree people should not be given council houses in expensive areas.

Has no real effect on employment. More expensive areas do have slightly higher employment rates but these differences are very small. Since people commute to work — either by public transport or car — the only effect of moving tenants is reducing time spent travelling and travel costs. This is not a major driver of employment

Raises tenants’ standard of living. The majority of social tenants are either totally or largely reliant on benefits. Someone living on benefits in an expensive part of London will pay a 10-15% premium compared to someone living in a cheaper area.

Reduce the housing waiting list by between 250,000 to 600,000 households in five years. The overwhelming majority of people waiting for a council house will benefit from these reforms.

Policy Exchange recommends that the £4.5billion is used to fund a large scale social housing building programme. To prevent the money being used to prop up land values and create new, unattractive estates, the report proposes:

Housing associations and councils would have to hold referendums with those living near the proposed new developments to drive up the quality of the new social housing

The funds should be offered to councils and housing associations to build homes on top of housing already planned.

As well as a maximum cap for existing social housing, a minimum floor should be brought in for new social properties to drive up the quality of the new stock

Alex Morton, author of the report, “Expensive social housing is costly, unpopular and unfair. That is why almost everybody rejects it. Social housing tenants deserve a roof over their heads, but not one better than most people can afford, particularly as expensive social housing means less social housing and so longer waiting lists for most people in need.”