Right to buy: why not extend it to private landlords too?

If housing associations have to sell their properties at a discount under ludicrous ‘right to buy’ legislation, why shouldn’t all private landlords be forced sell up on the cheap?


Will buy-to-let investors have another thing to worry about with right to buy?

Just before the election, I wrote that extending the right to buy' to the housing association sector was the worst policy of the campaign. I added that, given the dismal policies being suggested elsewhere, that was really saying something.

With the election won, I assumed the Conservatives would quietly ditch the idea and get on with finding a way to bring house prices down, rather than coming up with more ways to prop them up.

Sadly, it isn't so.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

The Tories appear determined to press ahead with the policy despite the warnings from almost everyone that it will do nothing to raise the supply of homes and everything to create a "buy-to-let bonanza" for those who get to buy their houses at a discount. It will, as Rowan Moore puts it in the Guardian, "segregate cities, fuel house price inflation and increase the number of homes that are used as units of speculation".

It will also do something worse make all tenants feel hard done by. When I wrote about this before the election, I pointed out that if it makes sense to force the housing associations (who are private, not state landlords) to sell at a discount, why does it not make sense to force all private landlords sell up on the cheap?

"If I was a buy-to-let investor letting to anyone getting Housing Benefit, I might start worrying about how long it is until I am forced to rent to them at a discount to the market price,"Iwrote at the time.

Thatconversationhas begun. A letter in the FT today from a Mr Peter Cave puts the case: "If propertyownershipmerits such high priority," he says, "why doesthegovernment not grant a right to buy against all those who have 'bought to let?'"

The private tenants of buy-to-let investors have "littlesecurityof tenure, littlecontrolover rent increases andhaveno share oftheproperty value.If we must think in terms of property ownership then if anyone deserves the right to buy at a discount it is those tenantsor at the very least they deserve the righttoshare in the property's increase in value. What is sauce for the tenant gooseshould also be sauce fortheprivate tenant gander."

Something new for buy-to-let investors who have stoppedworryingaboutrent controls, rising interest rates and second home taxes to think about. Or perhapsto petitionthegovernment on.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.