The right to buy gives council tenants the chance to buy their council home at a discounted price – now up to £100,000 in London and £75,000 in other areas of England. Find out if you qualify, about mortgages and who has to pay for repairs and improvements.
What is the right to buy?
Council tenants may have the right to buy the home they rent at a discounted price through the right to buy scheme. Housing association tenants may also qualify if they were originally council tenants and their tenancy has been transferred to a housing association.
If you qualify for the 'right to buy' you can buy your home jointly with a joint tenant, or with up to three family members who have lived in your home for at least the last 12 months.
Qualifying for the right to buy a council house
To be eligible to buy your council home, you must be a council tenant, and must have been a social housing tenant for at least five years. The five years doesn't have to be all at once, and you can count any time spent as:
- a council tenant
- a housing association tenant
- an armed forces tenant
- a tenant of a public body such as the NHS.
You may not be entitled to buy your home under the right to buy if:
- the property isn't your only or main home
- your home isn't self-contained (eg you share a kitchen or bathroom)
- you are bankrupt or threatened with bankruptcy or have other serious money problems
- you live in sheltered housing
- your home has been designed or adapted for people with special needs
Find out more from Gov.uk on who qualifies for the right to buy.
Right to buy homes transferred to housing associations
If your home has been transferred from the council to a housing association since you moved in, you probably still have the right to buy. This is called the 'preserved' right to buy. You can use form RTB1 to apply to your housing association instead of the council.
(Housing association tenants have similar rights under the right to acquire).
Applying for the right to buy
To apply for the right to buy, download claim form RTB1 from Gov.uk, or ask your council for the form. After you apply, the council has to give you a decision within four to eight weeks.
If the council decides that you have the right to buy, it has to send you a formal written notice that describes the property and explains:
- the terms and conditions of the sale
- the value of the property
- the discount you will get and how it is calculated
- if the property is a flat, an estimate of the service charges you will have to pay
- details of any structural problems that the council is aware of.
If the council says you don't have the right to buy, it has to give you a reason. If you think the council's decision is wrong, you can ask for a more detailed explanation.
Get advice if your application is refused – use our directory to find a local advice centre.
You may wish to consider other alternative home ownership schemes.
Discounts on homes bought using the right to buy
If you qualify for the right to buy, when you apply a valuer will assess what the property is worth and you will be offered the opportunity to buy it at a reduced price.
The UK Government sets the maximum discount on the sale price. From April 2013, the maximum discount in London is £100,000 and £75,000 in other areas. The amount of discount you get depends on:
- how long you have been a council tenant
- if the property is a house or a flat
- the age and condition of the property.
Find out more from Gov.uk on how Right to Buy discounts are calculated.
The costs of buying a council house
Unless you have the money to buy your home, you will have to get a mortgage from a bank or building society. You may also need to fund a deposit and pay the costs involved in buying a home. The costs of your mortgage may vary over time as interest rates change or you apply for new mortgage deals.
As a home-owner, you'll have to budget for the costs of emergency and long term repairs and improvements to your home. If you buy a flat you are likely to be a leaseholder – and may have to budget for service charges and repair costs for communal areas as well as for your own flat. You'll also need to budget for the costs of running your home
Use Shelter's budget calculator to work out a list of homeowners costs
It's important to consider how you will manage if your circumstances change. If you are out of work for example, you won't be eligible for housing benefit, but may be able to claim Support for Mortgage Interest payments as part of certain other benefits; however you may only be able to claim this for a limited time.
Risks of repair costs for communal areas
Repair and maintenance costs of flats can be very expensive. You are unlikely to just be responsible for the costs of repairs to your own home – you are also likely to have to contribute towards the cost of repairs and improvements to the communal areas of your block of flats and sometimes on your estate. Sometimes buyers of council houses also have to contribute to the costs of communal areas.
These can include the cost of repairs and improvements to:
- communal lifts and stairs
- floors and paths
- gardens and play areas.
These charges can be very expensive, especially if the council plans to do works to improve the standard of housing. You may have to budget for additional loans or mortgages to fund these types of repairs. Bills can be many thousands of pounds.
Your council has a legal duty to tell you about the cost of repairs and improvements before you buy a leasehold flat, and anytime afterwards when repairs are planned. However, a council's estimate of the costs involved may be lower than the final bill.
Selling a home bought using the right to buy
If you decide to sell your home within the first ten years (or it is repossessed by your mortgage lender during that time) you will have to repay some or all of the discount.
Advice and help on the right to buy
It's important to be aware of the risks of home ownership before you buy, and particularly important that you get independent financial advice before committing to a mortgage.
Make sure you get financial advice for the long term, and think about how you will cover the additional costs of repairs and improvements for the time you want to live in your home.
If you are not sure you have the right to buy, get advice from a Shelter advice centre, Citizens Advice or other advice centre in your area.
Use Shelter's directory to find a face-to-face adviser in your area.
Read Shelter's guide Council tenancies for more information on getting a council home
Last updated: 1 January 2014