Talk that Boris Johnson will offer many Housing Association tenants in England the chance to buy their homes will remind older voters of Margaret Thatcher’s council house sale which saw around 2million households join in his quest for a “democracy of property”. Young voters might also recall that the idea appeared in Tory manifestos in 2015 and 2019 but was never implemented.

There are 4.4million affordable homes of various types in England, but the complexity of selling property that is not publicly owned and the cost to the taxpayer of subsidizing sales that could exceed £1billion a year are among the reasons for such a sale. off never happened. Add to that widespread concerns that the policy will only deplete England’s already limited affordable housing stock as the sector estimates that 4.2 million people are in need, and the chances that the Prime Minister repeats the seismic property revolution offered by Thatcher’s scheme seem slim.

Even by this government own estimates, a fully operational right to purchase for housing association tenants is only expected to result in the sale of about 224,000 homes in a decade. Most tenants simply cannot afford to buy. The potential political gain, beyond the small talk, is therefore considerably less.

As Toby Lloyd, Theresa May’s former housing adviser, adds, with the rise of private renting, offering tenants of affordable housing tens of thousands of pounds off the sale could create tension with tenants private individuals paying higher rent for similar properties. This would create a clear sense of injustice.

There is, of course, an obvious appeal to families who benefit from the reduction. A pilot project in the Midlands launched in 2018 found that those who managed to buy generally ended up paying less on their mortgage than on their rent, albeit in an era of lower interest rates than today, and 80% of buyers would not have been able to buy a decent home otherwise.

The pilot saw 1,892 housing association homes sold at an average discount of 46% of property value. Rebates started at 35% and increased by one percentage point for each year in the social housing sector to a maximum of 70% but capped at £80,900.

But in April 2020, only about half of the owners involved had plans for replacement homes and the number of sales was lower than expected. Replacement housing was also smaller and 60% was ‘affordable’, meaning tenants paid up to 80% of private market rates, rather than cheaper ‘social’ rent.

Five-bedroom single-family homes were 10 times more popular among buyers than one-bedroom homes, indicating that such a policy is likely to have a disproportionate impact on larger social housing units for which listings waits have always been longer.

Social landlords took part in the trial, said Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation (NHF), with “our red line being that every social housing sold is replaced”.

But she said: ‘Recent pilot projects have shown how difficult this is to achieve, as there is not enough money from sales to build new social housing.

In some urban areas where property prices are low, the cost of building a new replacement home exceeds the income generated from the sale.

Meanwhile, the supply of social housing – which typically rents at a level equivalent to a third of household incomes – has shrunk considerably. Around 6,000 of the cheapest new council homes have been added to England’s housing stock in the year to April 2021, up from nearly 40,000 a decade earlier. Meanwhile, new affordable housing – which includes condominiums and more expensive “affordable” rent – ​​also fell from 61,000 to 52,000.

A analysis of the predicted that if a similar limited-time offer were made nationwide, about 6% of renters who lived in homes eligible for sale and could afford them would buy — nearly 16,000 households. If the program were open as it is for municipal tenants, about 224,000 homes would be sold in the first decade.

If the costs to the Treasury of funding the rebate in the Midlands scheme are extrapolated nationally, such an open-ended scheme could cost around £14billion over that period.