Private landlords are raking in the profit from Blackpool’s former council homes that have been sold off under the Right to Buy scheme.
Hundreds of the properties – mostly flats – have been purchased under the controversial scheme introduced by Margaret Thatcher.
What this does underline is the need, first of all, for the Government to give councils more flexibility in terms of how they operate the scheme and in terms of providing more affordable housing in the public sector.Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden
But despite its aim of helping people own the home they live in, new figures show two thirds of the properties in Blackpool are understood to be privately rented.
Critics of the scheme today blasted the “short-sighted” scheme, saying it puts extra strain on councils trying to protect tenants’ rights at a time when budgets have been slashed.
Blackpool Council, which is working to clamp down on irresponsible landlords, said it is leading the way nationally in its efforts to improve the private rented sector.
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said he was “disappointed but not entirely surprised” by the findings of a nationwide study carried out by Inside Housing.
It revealed Blackpool has the third highest proportion of Right to Buy properties now in the private rented sector – where typically rents are higher, minimum standards are lower and tenants do not have the same security of tenure.
Mr Marsden added: “There is a real issue when things go into the private rented sector about how tenants are protected and how standards are maintained.
“This puts huge pressure on Blackpool Council’s ability to maintain both at a time when we are being targeted with budget cuts.
“What the government is trying to do is devolve responsibility without money and therefore shift the blame when things go wrong.
“It is, at best, short-sighted and at worst cynical.”
Of the 397 leaseholds sold by the council since the scheme was introduced, 259 now have the owner registered as living away from the property.
Inside Housing said the figure is a “strong suggestion” of the number being privately rented and is the measure used by many councils.
Mr Marsden added: “What this does underline is the need, first of all, for the Government to give councils more flexibility in terms of how they operate the scheme and in terms of providing more affordable housing in the public sector.”
Housing association bosses on the Fylde coast say they have no control over how the properties are used once they are bought under the scheme.
Christine Wright, Blackpool Council’s portfolio holder for housing but speaking in her capacity as a trustee for campaign group Generation Rent, said the Right to Buy scheme hits tenants with a “double whammy”.
She added: “Extending Right to Buy to housing associations is the wrong way forward because it will end up with a lot of private landlords owning the properties. It is not achieving what they say is the aim behind it.
“It will just mean there is less affordable rented property for people.”
Blackpool Council said its selective licensing measures and enforcement work are driving up the quality of the resort’s privately rented accommodation.
It also pointed out that use of the Right to Buy scheme in Blackpool is currently “very low”.
Government figures show more than £1m has been raised by selling off former council properties on the Fylde coast since 2012, during which time 37 properties have been sold.
Stephen Dunstan, director of finance and resources at Blackpool Coastal Housing, said: “The Right To Buy regulations are set nationally and there is no local discretion in how they are applied.
“Once a tenant has exercised their right under the legislation like any homeowner they are then free to sell on the property and some will eventually be rented out.”
Last year, The Gazette revealed the shocking state of some privately rented flats in Blackpool.
One man was found to be paying £110 a week to live in a tiny damp-infested room in the town centre.
And there are fears people abusing the Right to Buy scheme, although they are not breaking the rules, could be adding to the problem.
Once a property is no longer under the control of Blackpool Coastal Housing, there is no guarantee the new landlord will maintain them to the same standards.
Selective licensing, the way the council regulates landlords in problem areas by requiring them to be licensed and meet certain obligations, is one way town hall chiefs are working to tackle sub-par properties.