The government should encourage the upgrading and repurposing of private rented sector (PRS) properties as social homes, a new report has claimed.

The New Economics Foundation’s (NEF) report, Beyond New Build, presents a range of policy levers which the NEF says would encourage a flow of transactions from the PRS to the social sector, enabling social landlords to provide much-needed social and affordable housing at speed.

The NEF outlines a community right to buy – pre-emptive first buyer rights for social landlords and community-led housing organisations – which it says would empower communities to take control of poorly-maintained and empty homes in deprived areas with low property values.

Additionally, such a policy would give social landlords a necessary competitive advantage over buy-to-let, often absentee landlords, who continue to extract wealth from left behind communities, the NEF says.

Furthermore, the report claims that a national acquisitions programme to support such organisations would catalyse regeneration, injecting jobs, economic growth and pride of place in England’s so-called left behind towns.

The report also argues that local authorities should be empowered to acquire properties from landlords who are unable or unwilling to let their properties to required standards, be it in relation to energy efficiency ratings, the Decent Homes Standard (DHS) — which is due to be extended to the PRS — or any other specified forms of regulatory non-compliance.

The NEF proposes new rules whereby landlords should be prevented from selling non-compliant properties on the open market, with only local authorities being permitted to purchase them as the buyer of last resort. This, the report says, would incentivise landlords to invest in better, greener homes and encourage local authorities to acquire them at a reduced price where standards are not met.

However, according to the NEF, these policy levers will only enable acquisitions to occur on a significant scale if they are backed by investment and central government grants. Therefore, the 10% acquisitions cap on the affordable homes programme (AHP) should be raised and a national housing conversion fund should be adopted and geared towards low-demand areas to inject economic growth and prevent high value property markets from becoming overheated.

Such a fund should include grants for non-registered providers, such as community-led housing groups – only then, the report says, can the proposals empower social landlords and grassroots housing organisations to tackle housing need, act as a vehicle for regeneration and economic growth in left behind areas, and help raise standards and energy efficiency in the PRS.

Read the full report here.