Finance for housing
An introduction

Five: The changing fortunes of council housing


The number of local authorities that own and directly manage council housing has declined dramatically since 1997. About 200 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales now own and manage council housing. In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive manages all the council housing there on behalf of local authorities, but changes to this arrangement are likely too. The focus in this chapter will be on England, given the limitations of space.

The most significant feature of council housing in recent years is its numerical decline from 4.9 million properties in 1976 to 1.7 million in 2011. From a tenure that represented 29% of the housing stock in England in the late 1970s (and higher in Scotland), it now represents less than 7.6% of the total. This chapter will explore how politicians have set in motion the processes that have led to this situation, not least establishing the right to buy and large-scale stock transfers. Neither of these processes could have happened to the extent that they did if the reputation of the sector had not declined too. Years of under-investment, enforced by tightening government control of local authorities’ HRAs, produced a situation where councillors were often responsible for council property that had increasing problems of disrepair, outdated fixtures and fittings, and poor local facilities. Council tenants saw landlord services decline year on year, despite paying their rents. At the same time, tenants were not immune to the attractions of the right to buy. Wanting to own your own home was promoted as natural and profitable.

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