Voluntary Right to Buy

Right to Buy allows tenants to buy their home at a discount. It has previously been available to council tenants and the government has committed to extending this right to housing association tenants too. As this scheme so far has been by voluntary agreement (not legislated) it is called Voluntary Right to Buy.

Principles of Voluntary Right to Buy 

In 2015, the NHF, on behalf of our members put forward a proposal to the government on how it could deliver its commitment to extend Right to Buy to housing association tenants by way of voluntary agreement rather than legislation. We wanted to make sure that any system delivered for tenants, housing association, and the government.

The agreement was based on four key principles: discounts for tenants, control over which homes to sell, full compensation, and flexible one-for-one replacement. 

You can read more detail on the principles, including a summary of the Voluntary Right to Buy agreement, in in our policy briefing.

The government committed to further testing of Voluntary Right to Buy in their most recent manifesto, and in May 2022, the Prime Minister announced that the government had plans to extend Right to Buy to housing association tenants.

There are currently no details of arrangements, nor a date for the full rollout. We’ll update our website when more information is available.

Voluntary Right to Buy pilots

In order to test how Voluntary Right to Buy could work in practice, and ensure a smooth experience for tenants, the government has previously run two pilot schemes – an initial pilot in 2016, and a second pilot in 2018. 

Eligible tenants living in the pilot regions were able to go through the process of buying their own home, with a discount paid for by the government. 

There are no pilots currently running while the government reviews the processes of the original pilots. We’ll update our website if this changes. If you are a tenant interested in Voluntary Right to Buy, please contact the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities or your local MP for further information. 

The Midlands pilot (2018)

This was launched in August 2018, following the government’s announcement in the 2016 Autumn Statement of £200m funding for a regional pilot. The Midlands was chosen by the government because it has a good mixture of different communities, types of homes and operating markets, making it a good testing area. 

The pilot lasted for two years and tested three things:

  • Portability. Where tenants who are eligible to buy under the scheme, but who live in a home that is exempt from the scheme, could transfer their discount to a different house.
  • One-for-one replacement. A way of guaranteeing that there will be no overall loss of affordable housing, by ensuring that for every home sold another affordable home is built. Guidance was produced for this.
  • The Voluntary Right to Buy guidance. The policy which details how the scheme will operate, jointly designed by housing associations, the NHF and the government, and based on the original Voluntary Right to Buy principles. Guidance was produced for the Midlands.

An evaluation of the pilot was conducted by RSM Economic Consulting in 2020, and the results were published in February 2021.

Read the Midlands pilot report

The original pilot (2016)

Prior to the Midlands pilot, five housing associations were invited by the government to take part in an initial pilot scheme in January 2016.

In collaboration with the pilot associations, we commissioned the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research to conduct research into lessons learned from the pilots.

Read the original pilot report

Future plans for Voluntary Right to Buy

Recent press reports suggest that the government is looking again at extending Right to Buy to those living in housing association properties. There are currently no details of arrangements, nor a date for the full rollout.

Our agreement with the government at the time of the Voluntary Right to Buy pilots was based on a clear set of principles, with our red line being that every single social home sold would be replaced. Evaluations of the pilots demonstrated how difficult this is to achieve, as there is not enough money from sales to build new social homes. On current figures, less than half of the homes sold have been replaced, and those that have been replaced are rarely replaced at social rent levels.

Our recent research shows that there are 4.2m people in need of social housing in England today. Every social home sold will make that waiting list longer. Housing associations are also facing new financial challenges, including the urgent need to make all their buildings safe and decarbonise homes. Our priority is to continue to make the case to government to increase the supply of good quality social housing.

Who to speak to

Marie Chadwick, Policy Leader