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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 February 2007, 12:03 GMT
Minister calls for housing help
Council housing estate
Ms Kelly will say the mistakes of the past must not be repeated
Council and housing association tenants should receive more help to get on the housing ladder, Communities secretary Ruth Kelly has said in a speech.

Rising house prices mean many feel left behind, she said at the Fabian Society.

She suggested offering a new "right to own" to encourage tenants to buy as little as a 10% stake in their homes, buying more throughout their lives.

The Tories said Labour had made it more difficult to buy, while Lib Dems called for more social housing to be built.

Ms Kelly said that "right to buy" was life-changing for many and a radical new shift was needed in housing policy.

She also announced more than 400m to improve housing for the elderly, disabled and the vulnerable.

Social tenants can currently buy a minimum 25% stake in their homes.

We need accelerate the pace of improvement and give more tenants a stake in their home and their community
Ruth Kelly

But Ms Kelly said social housing tenants could be offered incentives to buy as little as 10% and buy more over years, edging towards full ownership.

Pilot schemes had already begun. She said it followed similar private sector schemes where tenants are encouraged to buy a stake in their houses.

She said about one in 20 social housing tenants have that opportunity, but questioned why that figure was so low.

"Are there barriers in place that we could remove? Or indeed is 25% itself too high an entry level?" she said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Bridging the divide

"If we brought the 25% figure down to 10%, would it be the case that far more social tenants would want to take up the opportunity of home ownership?"

She said the aim was to bridge the divide between those people who received help to buy property, such as deposits from their parents, and those who are increasingly priced out of the housing market.

She said access to such a scheme could be linked to "responsible" tenants who pay rent on time or take part in community schemes.

Giving everyone who wants to the chance to get on the property ladder is at the heart of the Conservative visions of social mobility
Michael Gove
Shadow housing minister

And she said that the mistakes of the past - huge high-rise council estates - can never be made again.

"As a government we are building more social houses and have a good record of improving existing stock.

"But we need to accelerate the pace of improvement and give more tenants a stake in their home and their community.

"We are looking at a number of ideas to increase home ownership to create a sense of belonging and pride in communities."

Last year the Conservatives said they would allow council and housing association tenants to convert rent payments into mortgage instalments.

Waiting lists

Shadow housing minister Michael Gove criticised Labour for having a "needlessly bureaucratic" Homebuy scheme which has "helped only a tiny handful of people, while cuts to right-to-buy have made it more difficult for people to buy their own home".

He added: "Giving everyone who wants to the chance to get on the property ladder is at the heart of the Conservative visions of social mobility."

Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson Dan Rogerson said Labour's policy would not address the need for more social housing to be built to cope with council waiting lists.

"None of the policies announced today will deal with that. In fact they'll make the problem worse unless more social homes are built.

"The government should be investing in more social housing. Among other things, that means allowing councils to use right-to-buy receipts to build more homes for those currently without a place to properly call home."

Housing crisis

But housing charity Shelter said lowering the threshold of ownership could futher reduce the stock of social housing, just like the right-to-buy sale of council homes in the 1980s.

Shelter chief executive Adam Samson said: "I think it's important that everybody, particularly poor people, do get some opportunity to build up some asset base.

"But if this is a measure to address housing then I think it is at best relatively irrelevant to the housing crisis and could well exacerbate it because the way the right-to-buy has operated has been to severely reduce the number of homes available for let in the social sector."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Ruth Kelly's solution to the UK's housing problems



SEE ALSO
Q&A: Housing supply review
17 Mar 04 |  Business
Tory plan to boost home ownership
17 Aug 06 |  UK Politics

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