The Right to Buy scheme is a policy which gives secure tenants of councils and some housing associations the legal right to buy, at a large discount, the council house they are living in. From the moment of its introduction in 1980, Right to Buy has been a divisive and controversial policy. Supporters argue it gives the aspirational working class Britons the opportunity to own their own home and improve their financial circumstances.
Opponents say it amounts to a sub-market flogging of public assets and has caused distorted house prices, substantially contributing to the housing crisis.
Despite the controversy, the take up has been huge as, since its introduction, more than 1.8 million council homes have been sold at a discount.
Margaret Thatcher is seen as the face of Right to Buy and it is viewed as one of the defining policies of her time in office.
However, Mrs Thatcher took a while to be convinced of the policy, initially worried at the prospect of selling off potentially valuable state assets for far less than they were worth.
As Britain’s housing market is grinding to halt as a result of the Government’s coronavirus lockdowns, a 2015 report by The Telegraph reveals what happened to Mrs Thatcher’s first Right to Buy council house.
The terraced property of 39 Amersham Road in Harold Hill, near Romford in Essex, was first sold in 1980 to its council tenants for just over £8,000.
Revealed: What happened to Margaret Thatcher’s first Right to Buy council house
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
The sale was sealed by the Iron Lady herself, who was pictured handing over the keys to the new owners, the Pattersons, in what has since become an iconic image.
The three-bedroom house first hit the headlines in 1980 when the former Prime Minister visited to congratulate James and Maureen Patterson on their purchase.
The couple had moved into the Greater London Council-owned house when they were married in 1962, but with a daughter Leisa and twin boys Martin and Vernon to provide for, their dream of becoming home owners seemed an impossibility.
All that changed in 1980 with the introduction of the scheme enshrined in the new Housing Act.
Because they had lived in the property for 18 years, the Pattersons qualified for a 40 percent discount.
The sale of 39 Amersham Road was sealed by Mrs Thatcher herself
After putting down a deposit of just £5, they purchased the house in August 1980 for £8,315.
The report says: “The Pattersons’ marriage broke down amid the financial pressure of meeting the mortgage payments, which were rocketing due to high interest rates.
“Mrs Patterson, who was working at an old person’s home, struggled with the bills for sometime on her own, before eventually being forced to sell up and move into a mobile home.”
Mrs Patterson is quoted as saying in 2002: “If I’d foreseen the end of my marriage I’d never have bought. I got trapped there without enough cash to cover bills.
“The mortgage was about £250 a month and after my husband left I survived only because my sons gave me board-and-lodging. I was desperate in a house I couldn’t manage and wished I’d never bought.
“It broke my heart when I had to sell. It went for £57,000 and when I’d paid off the mortgage I had only enough left to buy a mobile home so I’m back down the property ladder.
“But I don’t blame anyone. It was my decision to make that investment.
“I still remember the day Mrs Thatcher came to tea. I am still committed to right-to-buy.
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Amersham Road in Harold Hill, near Romford in Essex
“She was an icon to me. She was a lovely guest. I gave her a guided tour and she said, ‘This is not just a house – it’s a home’. I was so proud. She had Downing Street and Chequers but No39 was just as special to me.”
Mrs Patterson sold the house in 1996 to transport manager Matt Brady and his wife Mandy, who worked as a teaching assistant.
After around five years they decided they needed somewhere bigger and relocated to Leigh-on-Sea, taking advantage of the rising housing market and selling for £101,000, a profit of more than £40,000.
Speaking to The Telegraph in 2013, Mr Brady said: “We sacrificed hard to buy our first house. We got a lot of benefit from Lady Thatcher’s policy much later because we bought at the right time and were able to take advantage of the property boom.
“We wanted to get onto the property ladder. I would hate to be young now and trying to buy our first house.”
The next owner was single mother Angela Bacon, who spent two years in Amersham Road between 2001 and 2003.
She said she was proud of her former home’s link to the Right To Buy policy and had always supported the scheme.
Miss Bacon said: “I thought it was a very good scheme. My mum and dad bought their houses that way. I think it helped people to get on the property ladder, because the discount really helped.
“I made a £30,000 profit on the sale of Amersham Road. It was a lovely house.”
She added: “I think when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister; she did a lot for the country. As she was the first female, she got a lot more respect with her policies than a male would have. I was quite proud to be living in the house when I found out.”
Liam Shingler was the next to purchase 39 Amersham Road, in 2004, staying for three years before selling to Alan Masters and his wife Amy in 2007 for £183,000.
Mr Masters told The Telegraph that by the time he bought the house, he was only able to get on the property ladder thanks to financial support from his grandfather.
He explained: “The reality is it’s tough for people.
“The housing market hasn’t really done anything in the last six years, prices haven’t risen, but I don’t know where we would be if Mrs Thatcher hadn’t given people the opportunity to buy council houses back then.”
According to the report, 39 Amersham Road was later bought by a single Lithuanian woman in her twenties for £180,000.
She had been living in Hounslow but relocated the 35 miles across London to Essex.
It is not clear whether she is still the owner of the property.