We had to think long and hard when we were approached to take part in the Right to Buy pilot in November last year.
But ultimately, it was an opportunity for us to help shape the policy while in early stages, making sure that while we give our residents the opportunity to buy their home on the one hand, we are able to maintain our business and social objectives on the other.
And so, as of today, around 6,800 of our tenants across Oxfordshire are able to apply for a place on the Right to Buy pilot.
We’re expecting significant demand. Even before applications had formally opened, with little publicity, we’d received nearly 250 expressions of interest. There will be many who do not meet the requirement to have been a tenant for ten years or more, and we also want to protect homes in our rural areas as well as those built for older people.
So while many tenants will be disappointed to miss out on a place in the small pilot, it does suggest this is a popular policy for the future.
As well as shaping the emerging policy, it was also a chance to get our business ready – and test our processes – for when a national scheme is rolled out.
We want to make it easy for residents to do business with us, and we’ve been expanding our digital offer over the last few years. So far this has been via our popular online MySovereign service and mobile app.
And we thought that if you can’t try some new techniques in a pilot, when can you?
And so we’re the only housing association in the pilot providing a fully digital service, accepting online applications only.
We’ve created a form on our Sovereign Living website to guide the residents through the process, and automatically filtering out applications that do not meet the necessary criteria for the pilot. It’s saving us time and money, and we believe will provide a straightforward and smooth experience for residents too.
We’ll be evaluating the success of this digital-first approach as the pilot progresses.
The future of Right to Buy
But, while the pilot is underway, it is worth remembering sales cannot complete until the Housing and Planning Bill becomes law. While it will probably pass through Parliament, we’ll be watching its progress carefully.
As well as the operational difficulties of implementing the pilot, one of the greatest challenges for us is the potential reduction of our social housing stock. How do we quickly replace homes sold to continue to meet housing need?
We’ve recently reviewed our development strategy, and we believe we can replace each property sold with another affordable home. This will be on top of our usual 1,000 homes we build each a year, across a range of tenures.
So I believe the decision to take part in the trial was the right one. It’ll give us the chance to influence any future scheme and to test a fully digital-first approach. The challenge for us and all housing associations is to make sure that we continue our efforts to build the much-needed affordable homes for our future residents.