The right to buy: examination of an exercise in allocating, shifting and re-branding risks

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This paper examines the development of the Right to Buy, introduced
by the Housing Act 1980, from the standpoint of governmentality, risk
and responsibilization. Our focus is on the risks not only to the purchasers
but also to local authorities and to those tenants who have not
purchased their homes. We trace how these risks have been assessed,
allocated and rebranded, by central government, by local authorities as
landlords with wider responsibility for housing issues in their local area,
and by the judiciary. Our analysis, for the first time, points out the sharp
contrasts between these three arms of government. Central government
has promoted the Right to Buy as an opportunity through technologies
such as ideological policy documents, legislation and regulations, within
a governing rationality which has succeeded in normalizing the tenure
of owner-occupation. Local authorities recognized from the outset the
risks associated with the Right to Buy both to individual purchasers and
more widely. The courts have allocated risk on the basis of individual
responsibility, implicitly supporting local authorities. Despite neoliberal
policies and ideology emphasizing the free market, central government has reduced or re-allocated risks through interventions to protect purchasers and also the broader community.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-36
Number of pages20
JournalCritical Social Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


  • courts, government, homeownership, re-branding, Right to Buy, risk

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