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Voluntary Right to Buy FAQs

What is the Voluntary Right to Buy?

The 2015 Conservative Party manifesto pledged to extend the Right to Buy to people living in housing association properties. The Government tested the principles of the scheme between January 2016 and July 2017 with a small pilot. A large-scale regional pilot of the VRTB was announced by Government in the Autumn Budget 2017. It was confirmed that the pilot would take place in the Midlands, starting at some point in 2018. The pilot will provide more information to housing associations and the Government before the scheme may be launched nationwide.

Why is it called ‘Voluntary’?

In October 2015, the Government accepted a proposal put forward by the National Housing Federation (the trade body for housing associations), on behalf of its members, to deliver its commitment to extend the Right to Buy to housing association tenants by way of a voluntary agreement rather than legislation. This has come to be known as the Voluntary Right to Buy (VRTB). The Housing and Planning Act 2016 only enacted what was necessary to enable the Secretary of State to underpin the agreement.  

When will the Voluntary Right to Buy pilot start?

The pilot starts on 16 August 2018, for a period of 2 years. 

Why is the scheme run as a ballot?

With only limited government funding available to reimburse housing associations for the discount, not everyone eligible will be able to purchase under the scheme. A ballot has been judged to be the fairest way to run the scheme in the light of limited funding.

Other reasons for running a ballot system are to ensure accessibility for customers without internet access at home, or who require assistance with access. That way it provides more time for customers to put such arrangements in place. 

What is a ‘unique reference number’ (URN) and how do I get one?

Before you apply to Orbit for the Voluntary Right to Buy, you must obtain an URN from the Government’s ‘Digital Gateway’ website.

The URN is allocated by Government. Customers have to apply on the Government website to be entered in to a ballot whereby, once the ballot has closed on 16 September, the Government will allocate URNs to customers on a random basis.

The Government will notify you to let you know if you have been successful in being allocated an URN. If you are successful you can apply through Orbit’s website, providing us with your URN. You will need to apply within four weeks of receiving your URN. If unsuccessful in the ballot you will not be able to apply for the Voluntary Right to Buy. 


What if I am unsuccessful in obtaining a unique reference number?

Orbit has no control over the ballot. We are not permitted to process applications without a unique reference number. If you have any questions you should contact the Government’s Right to Buy Agents for more information, or call 0300 123 0913.

I don’t live in the Midlands. Is the Voluntary Right to Buy available in other regions?

The pilot is confined to the Midlands region only, so the Voluntary Right to Buy will not be available anywhere else. For the precise geographical coverage of the pilot click here.

Am I eligible?

The eligibility criteria have been set by Government.

You are eligible for the scheme if you:

  • have been a social tenant for at least 3 years and have lived in your current home for at least 12 months. If you only have been with Orbit 1 year but with a different social landlord (council or housing association) for a further 2 years, your total tenancy length will equal 3 years and you will qualify
  • currently hold an undemoted secure tenancy, an assured tenancy, or a fixed-term tenancy
  • have the right to reside in the UK and can demonstrate that immigration status checks are met

You are ineligible for the scheme if you:

  • already have the Preserved Right to Buy or Statuary Right to Buy. You can find more details about those schemes on our website
  • have a fixed-term tenancy for less than 2 years, or are have an assured shorthold periodic tenancy.
  • have an assured fixed-term tenancy where the original term is longer than 21 years
  • are an assured tenant in shared housing
  • are a shared owner
  • live in designated housing for older people, supported housing, or housing for people with disabilities
  • occupy only a room in a shared house or flat
  • have any rent arrears at any point during your application
  • have legal issues with debt
  • are currently subject to the mortgage rescue scheme
  • are a resident of almshouses or co-operative housing associations
  • have committed anti-social behaviour, and Orbit has initiated legal proceedings as a result of this
  • are subject to legal proceedings, such as injunction proceedings or a notice of seeking possession
  • already own a property at the point of application

For further details see our Voluntary Right to Buy policy

Can I make a joint application?

Yes, you can apply with up to 3 family members. They will also have to demonstrate that the home is their main home and has been their main residence for at least the last 12 months. In addition, joint applicants will also need to demonstrate that they have the right to reside in the UK and meet immigration status checks. No joint applicant can be added or removed from the application during the process without voiding the application. Also in the case where any of the joint applicants is ineligible this will void the application. Joint applicants subject to bankruptcy proceedings or unfilled credit arrangements are also ineligible.

How much discount will I be entitled to?

The discount is calculated on the following basis:

  • for each complete year of confirmed tenancy, you are entitled to receive a discount based on a percentage of the open market value of the property. The total periods of qualifying tenancy are added together (years, months, days) and the discount is calculated on the total years. The monetary value of this percentage is then deducted from the market valuation of the property
  • for freehold sales you will receive a 35% discount for the first 5 years and a further 1% for each additional complete year of confirmed tenancy, up to a maximum of a 70% discount – or £80,900 whichever is lower
  • for leasehold sales you will receive a 50% discount for the first 5 years and a further 2% for each additional complete year of confirmed tenancy, up to a maximum of 70% – or £80,900, whichever is lower
  • if you have previously received funding under the Right to Buy, Preserved Right to Buy or Right to Acquire, the discount will be reduced by the amount previously received

Worked example

Ms Smith has been a housing association tenant for 11 years. Her 3 bedroom house in Coventry has been valued at £300,000. She has previously received £16,000 under the Right to Acquire for a property she no longer owns.

35% (5 years) + 1% x 6(years) = 41%

41% x £300,000 = £123,000

Maximum discount  = £80,900

Maximum discount  £80,900 – deductions £16,000 = £64,900

The Government will pay a discount of £64,900 and Ms X will pay £235,100. Orbit receives £300,000 market value.

Does my property qualify for the Voluntary Right to Buy?

Housing associations have discretion to exempt properties from the Voluntary Right to Buy. Our Voluntary Right to Buy Property Exclusions Policy sets out our exemption criteria and the reasons for it.

To find out whether your home is exempt from the Voluntary Right to Buy, fill in your details in our property eligibility checker.

Where the property is exempt from the Voluntary Right to Buy you will have the choice of buying an alternative property, subject to availability, and we will offer you a list of alternative properties available to purchase. This is known as ‘portability’. Details can be found in the ‘Voluntary Right to Buy Portable Discount Policy’. The discount is based on the alternative property you are purchasing. 

If we can’t tell you whether your property will be included or excluded from sale, we may need to carry out further checks to identify if your home does qualify for Voluntary Right to Buy. In this case you should complete our online application form in order for us to provide you with a decision.

Remember, you can only complete the online application form providing you have been successful in receiving an Unique Reference Number from the Government.

How long can I expect the process from applying to completion last?

The process to buying your home could take up to 11 months; however it might take longer if you go down the ‘portability’ route.

Your customer journey to buy your home will be as follows:

  1. Register in the ballot to obtain a unique reference number from the Government’s Digital Gateway. The ballot will be open for one month, closing on 16 September 2018
  2. Complete our customer and property eligibility checker.
  3. Complete the Orbit application form, provided you have obtained a unique reference number. You will need to apply to us within four weeks of receiving your ‘unique reference number’.
  4. Pay the £250 application fee (refundable to you upon sale of the property)
  5. Orbit will carry out eligibility checks
  6. Attend a face-to-face interview at our Stratford-upon-Avon office. Any joint applicant(s) must be present
  7. A RICS qualified surveyor will value the property
  8. Orbit will issue a formal offer of sale to you detailing the sale price and discount
  9. You accept the formal offer
  10. The conveyancing process begins
  11. You successfully purchase your property
  12. You will receive a refund of the £250 application fee
I am a shared owner. Am I eligible to buy my home under the Voluntary Right to Buy?

The Voluntary Right to Buy is not open to customers who own a property under Shared Ownership. To purchase your Shared Ownership property outright you must contact Orbit’s Home Ownership Services team to enquire about buying more shares in your property. 

Where can I find out more?

The Government’s Right to Buy website and helpline 0300 123 0913

The Right to Buy Agents – a free, impartial source of information funded by the Government. You can phone them on 0300 123 0913 or contact them via the website

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau for legal advice

The Money Advice Service, for budgeting and financial advice 0300 500 5000.

Why are you picking people by ballot?
  • The decision to allocate places on the pilot via a ballot was made by the government. The government is allocating places through a ballot because they believe this is the fairest way of allocating the limited number of places available in this pilot project.
  • The alternative would have been to allocate spaces on a first come, first served basis. Government felt that this would have disadvantaged tenants with accessibility issues or those who could not get onto the internet in the first few days of opening.
How many people are going to be let in to the pilot?
  • The pilot has a budget of £200m, which is funded by the government. It is for Government to determine the numbers of places it can fund.
Will the ballot ever be reopened, or is this one month people’s only chance?
  • There are no plans to reopen the ballot, but the government have advised that they will keep this under review, depending on the levels of demand and drop-out.
I haven’t heard anything about the ballot results. What do I do?
  • Government are using a ballot because they believe this is the fairest way of allocating the limited number of places available in this pilot project.
  • Firstly, check the timescales on the Government’s website to see when you should expect to be contacted about the ballot. Not everyone will be contacted at the same time, and as it takes time to administer the ballot you will not know your result straight away.
  • If you have not received an email with your results after you expected to, make sure you check your junk mail folder.
  • If you are still concerned, the Government’s Right to Buy agents will available to answer any queries, Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm (except bank holidays). They can be called on 0300 123 0913 or emailed at
Why haven’t I been selected by the ballot?
  • A limited number of places are available on the pilot and not everyone who has entered the ballot will be able to participate. 
  • Applicants were selected at random by ballot after the Government Gateway has closed. This decision was taken by government, who believed this is to be the fairest way of allocating the limited number of places available in this pilot project.
I was unsuccessful in the ballot. Can I appeal?
  • Unfortunately not. The number of sales in the pilot is limited and URNs were allocated to entrants via a random ballot.
What if I have lived in housing provided by public sector landlords who aren’t Housing Associations?

Public sector landlords whose tenancies contribute to Voluntary Right to Buy eligibility 

Note. Your time as a tenant of the following list of landlords may contribute to the eligibility period for calculating the voluntary Right to Buy discount. It does not mean that you can buy your home under the voluntary Right to Buy if you are currently a tenant of one of these landlords. If in doubt, please check that your landlord is a party to the voluntary Right to Buy scheme.   

Community councils

Local Authorities

New town corporations

Parish councils

Urban development corporations

Housing Action Trusts

Registered social landlords (but not co-operative housing associations)

Government departments

Ministers of the Crown

Secretary of State (in some circumstances)

Area electricity boards

Fire and rescue authorities

Internal drainage boards

National Health Service trusts and foundation trusts

Passenger transport executives

Police authorities

Water authorities

AFRC Institute for Grassland and Animal Production

Agricultural and Food Research Council

British Airports Authority

British Broadcasting Corporation

British Coal Corporation

British Gas Corporation

British Railways Board

British Steel Corporation

British Waterways Board

Central Electricity Generating Board

Church Commissioners

Civil Aviation Authority

Coal Authority

Electricity Council

English Sports Council

Environment Agency

Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England

Housing Corporation

Lake District Special Planning Board

Lee Valley Regional Park Authority

Medical Research Council

National Bus Company

Natural England (in some circumstances)

Natural Environment Research Council

Peak Park Joint Planning Board

Post Office

Science and Engineering Research Council

Sports Council

Transport for London

Trinity House (in some circumstances) 

United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority 

United Kingdom Sports Council

In Wales:

Countryside Council for Wales 

National Assembly for Wales (in some circumstances)

National Library of Wales 

National Museum of Wales 

Sports Council for Wales

In Scotland:


Development corporations

Housing associations (in some circumstances)

Water authorities

Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses

Highlands and Islands Enterprise

North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board

Scottish Homes

Scottish Natural Heritage

Scottish Sports Council

South of Scotland Electricity Board

In Northern Ireland:

District councils

Education and Library Boards

Registered housing associations

Fire Authority for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Electricity Service

Northern Ireland Housing Executive

Northern Ireland Policing Board

Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company

Sports Council for Northern Ireland

In respect of housing co-operative agreements

In England and Wales, a local housing authority, new town corporation, or the Development Board for Rural Wales.

In Scotland, a local housing authority.

And any predecessor of these landlords

If I don’t apply to buy my home, will this negatively affect my tenancy?

No it won’t. You are under no obligation to apply to buy your home and if you choose not to apply, your tenancy will remain unaltered. 

What alternative properties can I purchase, if my property is excluded?

We will ask you what your property preferences are, such as: the area you would like to live, and type of property you require. If a property becomes vacant because the current customer decides to move out, and this property meets your requirements, we may be in a position to offer you that property.

We cannot guarantee that you will be able to find a suitable alternative property to purchase. If you are unable to find an alternative property within three months from the date of being told the outcome of your property’s eligibility, then your application and Unique Reference Number will be cancelled.