Inside Housing opinion piece by Sue Shirt, Executive Director Customer Experience

Stonewater owns around 8,200 homes in the Midlands and we are one of the housing associations involved in the Voluntary Right to Buy pilot currently running in the region.

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While we are well aware of the questions around the use of public funds to support the pilot and concerns that homes sold may not be replaced like-for-like, we are unashamedly supportive of the VRTB and are proud to be involved in the pilot. Here is why.

First, it is our priority to deliver what our tenants want. Our customers tell us they aspire to own their home and so we are seizing the opportunity provided by the VRTB pilot to help offer this option.

Second, the VRTB is very different from the Right to Buy policy which applies largely to tenants of current or former local authority homes. We have learned the lesson from the RTB and the nationwide failure to replace properties one-for-one. We are ensuring that we replace all homes sold under the VRTB with at least one new social or affordable home.

The first 11 of our tenants have now completed the purchase of their homes, and we estimate this figure will rise to around 170 tenants. We have already started planning to put the proceeds of these sales to work so that others can have a place they can call home. At present Stonewater plans to build almost 550 affordable and social homes in the Midlands over the next five years.

That for me is the crucial point about the VRTB: it helps us help more people into much-needed, modern, energy-efficient housing that works for them. Consider, for instance, the fact that some of our best tenants have previously had to leave their homes and their communities to achieve their homeownership dream. This is upheaval for those families and a huge loss to their community.

To me and colleagues at Stonewater, the VRTB helps the social housing journey. When people first move into our rented properties they are in housing need and buying a home simply isn’t an option at that time. But the majority of customers applying under the VRTB pilot have been social housing tenants for many years and they are now financially secure enough to own their own home.

A key issue that the pilot has been exploring is ‘porting’. This is where a tenant qualifies for the VRTB, but their home has restrictions on it such as being part of a Section 106 agreement, or being in a rural location where affordable homes are scarce. In these circumstances the tenant is offered the option to ‘port’ their VRTB to another available property.

While porting may not be successful in every instance, as part of the pilot we have managed to arrange two ‘porting’ sales to families keen to swap their property with the purchasing tenant.

Stonewater is also supportive of the potential for a second ballot of households in the VRTB pilot. 409 customers were successful in the initial ballot and 293 of these (71%) applied for a VRTB offer from Stonewater. We estimate that, based on existing applications, around 170 households will proceed to buy their own home. This means we will be able to provide additional homes for at least 170 other households.

Yet, we can do more. There were 163 households who were unsuccessful in the initial ballot. A second ballot would give these households – and the equivalent number of new tenants – the chance of getting the home they want. We are working closely with the government on the pilot to ensure it is as successful as possible.

We recognise that home ownership plays a vital role in social mobility. The VRTB presents a net gain to our customers and to our overall housing offer. If it did not then we would not be involved.

You can also read the article on the Inside Housing website: https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/comment/voluntary-right-to-buy-why-stonewater-is-proud-to-be-involved-61306