Third of ex-council homes now owned by rich landlords

The ‘Daily Mirror’ reports that “Westminster council told us 31% of 8,910 leaseholders sub-let its flats. There are 2,084 households on waiting lists for social housing in Westminster. The council reportedly spent £2million in nine months paying for 120 homeless families to stay in hotels last year.”

“The multi-millionaire son of a Tory minister who presided over the controversial “right-to -buy” scheme is a buy-to-let landlord owning scores of former council flats.

A Daily Mirror investigation found a third of ex-council homes sold in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher were now owned by private landlords.

In one London borough almost half of ex-council properties are now sub-let to tenants.

Tycoon Charles Gow and his wife own at least 40 ex-council flats on one South London estate. His father Ian Gow was one of Mrs Thatcher’s top aides and was Housing Minister during the peak years of right-to-buy.

Other wealthy investors own scores of ex-council properties via offshore holding firms in tax havens in the Channel Islands, the GMB union has found. Boss Paul Kenny said: “You couldn’t make it up. The family of one of the Tory ministers who oversaw right-to-buy ends up owning swathes of ex-council homes.”

Our probe comes as the housing shortage facing ordinary families hits crisis point.

There are five million people waiting for social housing in Britain and house building cannot keep up with demand. Meanwhile, the private rented sector has almost doubled in a decade and 8.5 million people are tenants – one in six households. Experts link the crisis to Mrs Thatcher’s decision to sell off council homes to tenants at a discount. Right-to-buy proved popular, but our investigation has found 30 years later, the next generation has not benefited.

Controversially councils were not allowed to spend the cash on building more homes.

We used the Freedom of Information Act to ask city councils how many of their ex-flats, where they still own the freehold, were being sub-let by the leaseholder. The 13 that responded told us in 32% of the properties, the leaseholder had an “away address” for ¬correspondence – a clear sign the flat was being rented out.

London’s Wandsworth Borough Council has sold off 24,000 properties under right-to-buy since 1978.

For 15,874 the lease was sold, as they were in blocks of flats where the council kept the freehold.

The council told us 6,180, or 39%, of the owners who bought those leases gave a different address for correspondence.

And it also revealed 95 landlords have five or more of these properties. The largest leasehold landlord owns the leases on 93 of its freehold properties, with the second largest having 32.

Research by the GMB suggests the owner of the 93 could be Charles Gow. In one single ex-council block of 120 flats in Sherfield Gardens, Putney, 62 of the leaseholds are registered to different addresses. Of these, Mr Gow owns 35 while his wife Karin owns another five. Ian Gow was Mrs Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary between 1979 and 1983. Right-to-buy peaked in 1984, by which time he was Housing Minister. He was killed in 1990 by an IRA car bomb.

Land Registry records show his son began buying properties in Sherfield Gardens in 1996 for £100,000 each. His firm KCG is offering four-bedroom flats there for £1,500 a month. The properties are now worth up to £300,000 and the Gows’ 40 properties could be worth £10million. Mr Gow, who lives in a £2.5million house in Esher, Surrey, would not say how many ex-council properties he owned. But he added: “Your numbers are on the low side. I paid the market value for them. I’m running a business.
“You aren’t trying to make me feel guilty, are you?”

Two sister companies based in Guernsey own another portfolio of former council properties. Chelsea Estates Ltd owns 38 ex-council homes in Wandsworth, Westminster and Lambeth, while Birkett Estates Ltd has 19. They are controlled by ex-venture capitalist Alex Birkett Smith, 46 and brother James, 42. The GMB found the pair and their wives also directly own another 27 ex-council properties in Wandsworth, meaning one wealthy family has almost 100 ex-council homes in the capital. They were unavailable for comment yesterday.

Westminster council told us 31% of 8,910 leaseholders sub-let its flats.
There are 2,084 households on waiting lists for social housing in Westminster.
The council reportedly spent £2million in nine months paying for 120 homeless families to stay in hotels last year.

Mr Kenny added: The investigation exposes Thatcher’s policy as nothing more than a charter for the exploitation of social housing for private profit.”

Toby Lloyd, of housing charity Shelter, said: “Your investigation helps explain why millions are being squeezed into expensive private rented accommodation while a lucky few have done very well.

“The problem with right-to-buy was that the homes that were sold off were not replaced.

“It wasn’t a policy to encourage more home ownership – it was to encourage less social housing.”

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