by Lamiat Sabin
HOUSING association homes are at risk of being sold to big business through the back door after ministers reclassified them yesterday from private charities to public bodies.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) ruled that housing associations will be treated as part of the public sector from early next year.
A government spokesman claimed that the change is a “statistical matter” that “makes no difference at all to the way housing associations run themselves and imposes no new controls or rules.”
The Tories have said they want housing associations reverted to “private bodies again as soon as possible” but Downing Street did not respond to requests to clarify whether this would be as charities or sold to buy-to-let landlords.
Housing associations have been forced to agree to a voluntary extension of right to buy, allowing tenants to buy their properties at knock-down prices.
Shadow housing minister John Healey said the reclassification “completely undermines” the so-called voluntary right to buy deal.
“That deal was done with the housing association sector on the basis that if they didn’t agree, they risked reclassification as public bodies which we all want to avoid,” he said.
“The ONS decision calls into question the whole deal and the good faith of ministers in reaching it.”
Ministers have known about the ONS reclassification of housing associations since July, so there are “hard questions” they have to answer on why they went ahead with the agreement, Mr Healey added.
Around £60 billion of housing association debt will also be added to the national deficit, ONS ruled, and this could give the Tories an excuse to “dispose” of properties in flogging them to private landlords.
National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr said that housing associations are “disappointed” with the reclassification as it “could mean fewer new homes are built at the time of a national housing crisis.”
Chancellor George Osborne claimed that billions of pounds’ worth of public assets would be sold to fund Britain’s infrastructure in plans costing £100 billion.
Mr Osborne’s list of targets is being written up by Treasury ministers to be revealed in his Autumn Statement on November 25.