The head of a historic Birmingham housing association has welcomed a crushing Lords defeat for a bill which would have forced it to sell off homes to tenants.
The Bournville Village Trust, which was founded around Birmingham’s famous Cadbury factory in 1900 , voiced serious concerns about the legislation which it described as “unfair and shameful”.
But this week the Government was heavily defeated in the Lords when Labour and Liberal Democrat peers voted 257 votes to 174 to force through an amendment to the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill.
The amendment requires the Charity Commission to ensure independent charities are not compelled to use or dispose of assets in a way which is “inconsistent with their charitable purposes”.
Although the defeat came before peers even debate the controversial new right-to-buy scheme, it effectively fires a shot across the bow of ministers’ plans.
The Bournville Village Trust said it would be unjust for it to be forced to sell housing which was bequeathed by the Cadbury family to help those most in need.
Chief executive Peter Roach said: “We welcome the news that peers have voted for an amendment to the Charities Bill, which would prevent charitable trusts like ourselves being forced to sell the social housing that was built through the goodwill of our founder George Cadbury for those most in need, not just for workers of his chocolate factory as many believe.
“The supply of good quality affordable homes is far short of what is needed, not just in Birmingham but across the country, and extending right-to-buy threatens to undermine this and our founder’s charitable aims further.
“This is not to say that we don’t support people’s home-ownership aspirations and we help where we can by building homes for shared ownership as well as rent, but we believe it shouldn’t come at a cost of losing an already scarce resource.”
Mr Roach highlighted housing figures that suggested the problem needed to be solved by building more properties rather than forcing charities to sell off homes.
In 2004, the Barker Review of Housing Supply stated 250,000 homes needed to be built every year in the country to prevent a shortage of affordable homes and stop house prices rocketing. In the last five years 260,000 homes were built – a shortfall of 990,000.
According to Shelter, since 2011 over 26,000 social rented homes have been sold through Right to Buy across England and only 2,712 replacement homes provided. The ratio of replacement has been 10 homes sold for every one replaced.
In the House of Lords, Cabinet Office minister Lord Bridges of Headley called in vain for peers not to approve the “problematic” change, insisting the forthcoming Housing Bill was the right time to debate the issue.
But Labour’s Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town said charities should not be compelled to do something which was not in their best interests.
She said Labour was not against the right to buy, which had helped many people, but added “we don’t want that right to buy to be at the expense of the charitable aims” of some organisations.
These included some that had donated land, money or property for a specific purpose, such as to house the elderly or rural workers.
Bournville Village Trust was created by George Cadbury – who ran the chocolate business with his brother Richard – as a community where people from different backgrounds lived together in high-quality housing at a time when conditions in overcrowded back streets meant life expectancy was about 40 years.