First the good news. There has been a huge increase in right to buy applications from council tenants since the higher discounts were introduced in April. A survey by Inside Housing of 25 councils found 5,697 households have registered.
The bad news is that only 233 of them have so far been converted to sales. In Birmingham, for example, there have been 696 registering their wish to buy, but only 65 who have actually done so.
Of course there is a lot of faffing about when it comes to buying a house at the best of times. If you have the public sector involved in any transaction there will always be extra delay. There is also a lack of awareness among council tenants that the discounts have been increased to £75,000. The Government's publicity efforts thus far have been negligible. Labour councils, which have the most council tenants, will be the most resistant to processing the applications expeditiously – or letting their tenants know that the enhanced offer is available.
I suspect that some Conservative councils could do more. Croydon Council recorded "119 expressions of interest" since April – that is a low figure. Croydon has 14,024 council homes. In Hammersmith and Fulham we have fewer, 13,113. Yet we have had ten times more registering a wish to buy. That indicates a less than vigorous publicity drive in Croydon. The discounts for them are lower but then the property prices are lower. Has the council actually written to their tenants to let them know about the changes?
Anyway, Croydon Council has only had two sales.
The Cabinet Member for Housing in Croydon Cllr Dudley Mead says: "As far as I’m concerned the mortgage market is dead in the water and that’s delaying the process."
Yet the truth is that many are being prevented from buying because their mortgage application has been rejected. Some companies are not accepting the discount element as part of the deposit.
This is a wider issue over financial institutions becoming risk averse about lending. Maybe the Government should get on with bank privatisation, including breaking up RBS as John Redwood proposes. Maybe regulation is too restrictive in certain respects when it comes to allowing new smaller banks to be established and provide greater competition.
On the other hand we shouldn't get into a position of politicians bullying banks to give loans to people when the banks don't think they will get their money back – this is where we came in with Bill Clinton's well intentioned meddling leaving a legacy of sub prime mortgages.
A simpler change would be the introduction of a right to part buy – as my colleague Cllr Andrew Johnson has called for. This would offer a chance to gain home ownership in stages – in a prudent and affordable way. This is a flexibility that the new Housing Minister Mark Prisk should allow.