Latest lessons from the Voluntary Right to Buy pilot

15 September 2016 | 15 September 2016

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Buying a house is complicated. You’ve got to get your finance sorted, be confident you can afford the mortgage (and all the other costs) over the long run, and then there’s the paperwork and legal jargon to get through. It can be a daunting prospect for any first-time buyer.

If you’re a housing association resident interested in the Voluntary Right to Buy, there are some other areas you’ll need information about when the scheme goes live. How will the process work? How will you get your discount? Are you eligible under the Government criteria, and can your housing association sell your current home?

This is one of the lessons we’re learning from the pilots: housing associations need to provide clear and consistent communications with their residents as they consider whether or not the Right to Buy is right for them.

Clarity from start to finish

Together with The Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR), based at Sheffield Hallam University, we’re listening to residents as they move through the pilot – and remain committed to sharing this knowledge with the rest of the sector.

The research is telling us that we need to be as clear as possible with residents throughout the process about how everything will work, what they can expect from us and when, and whether they and their property are eligible.

Eligibility is an area where communication is particularly key. Under the Voluntary Right to Buy, the Government will decide which housing association residents will be eligible for the scheme. There will also be some properties which housing associations use their discretion not to sell.

In the pilot, each of the five associations took a different approach, and this flexibility was important because it helped ensure the pilots were suited to their local circumstances.

However, the research confirms that we need to be as clear as possible about eligibility, which homes can’t be sold, and what options are available when speaking with residents. This open and straightforward approach needs to remain throughout until the sale has completed.

Housing associations can be considering their communications approach now as they start to think through how they might implement Voluntary Right to Buy. Simple, clear information along with quick and robust decisions is crucial to a smooth sale.

This is particularly important where many housing associations work in a local area who may have different approaches. Publishing a local policy setting out your approach could help with this.

Conversations with local partners

As well as using their discretion to exclude hard-to-replace homes, many housing associations are under contractual obligations with local authorities, developers and funders when it comes to homes built under Section 106 agreements.

Section 106 homes were not included in the pilot as the focus was on testing the core mechanism. In the national scheme, however, housing associations will need to have open conversations with local authorities and funders about working through any restrictions that are in place – and, of course, communicate the outcomes clearly to tenants in local policies. The National Housing Federation has put together a useful briefing on the latest thinking about the scheme’s design, and what housing associations can do to prepare. There are member conversations taking place around the country where these issues are discussed in more depth. We will also be publishing a summary of the CRESR findings in the autumn.

However, the pilots have clearly highlighted that technical elements and customer care need to go hand in hand to make the scheme a success and a positive experience for our residents.

Clare Powell will be joining the other pilot housing associations at the NHF Conference in Birmingham next Wednesday at 3.45pm, to discuss the lessons learnt so far.