Sharing lessons from the Voluntary Right to Buy pilot

20 April 2016 | 20 April 2016

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From the outset all five pilot Voluntary Right to Buy (VRTB) housing associations have been committed to sharing our learning with our sector.

Conscious that others are starting to prepare for a national VRTB programme, we joined with the National Housing Federation (NHF) to commission research that would deliver its findings throughout the pilot.

Today we’re able to share the initial findings from that research.

The Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR), based at Sheffield Hallam University, was appointed in February to investigate all aspects of the pilot and its effectiveness, including levels of demand.

The research will also allow us to start discussing issues that are not part of the pilot, such as the development of a portable discount and how replacement programmes could work.

The issues identified at this stage include:

  • Determining exemptions and eligibility can be challenging and time consuming.
  • Advertising the VRTB has created a renewed interest from those who are eligible for the Preserved Right to Buy.
  • Many applicants are planning to fund their purchase wholly or partially from savings or family contributions, making take-up hard to predict.
  • There is tentative evidence of a high level of pent-up demand, which could mean lots of early applications.
  • There is a concern about managing expectations, as sales cannot proceed until the Housing and Planning Bill becomes law.

The research has also highlighted areas where the pilot associations will be able to offer examples of good practice to other associations, for example:

  • The pilots are treating the VRTB as a commercial product, and are encouraging applicants to take ownership and responsibility of the process.
  • There are differences in the way housing associations will exercise their discretion not to sell properties albeit within a common framework – reflecting both local housing need and business priorities.
  • The different application processes include a fully digitised process, fraud protection procedures, and a mixture of approaches on communication and support to reflect local circumstances.
  • The pilot is attempting to address some of the criticisms of the original RTB policy, for example by seeking to restrict lettings of the properties sold and seeking a financial commitment from applicants before incurring third party costs such as valuations.

These early findings highlight some of the similarities as well as the differences between the pilot housing associations and their operating areas. This reinforces the importance of fitting the VRTB offer to local circumstances. Further findings will help us understand how a balance between flexibility and consistency can be struck so that VRTB works across the country.

Delivering the pilot in such a short space of time has been a massive commitment for the five pilot housing associations, and we’ve all learned an enormous amount already – not least about teamwork! While the final report won’t be available until September, we’ll share the findings from the CRESR as they emerge.