How social housing works

Who lives in social housing?

Anyone living in England can apply for social housing, via a waiting list held by their local authority. Eligibility is based on housing need, with priority given to:

  • The homeless
  • Those living in unsuitable or overcrowded housing
  • People with welfare or medical issues
  • Victims of domestic violence or racial and sexual abuse
  • Referrals from social services, the National Probation Service and refuges.

Housing associations

  • Are not-for-profit organisations working with local authorities to meet housing need
  • Provide homes for millions of families that otherwise could not afford one. Some associations have fewer than 10 homes, while others more than 50,000
  • Own, let and manage affordable tenancies and provide landlord services, individual support and help create supportive communities, to make tenancies work
  • Build homes for affordable rent, shared ownership and private sale, in partnership with local authorities and housebuilders. Private sales generate revenue to pay for affordable homes and services
  • Are sometimes referred to as Registered Providers and, in England, are regulated by Homes England.

Types of social housing

  • Social rented homes: low rent (typically 50-60% of market rent), secure housing, prioritised by need
  • Affordable rent housing: social housing with a higher rent (up to 80% of market rent), less secure housing, prioritised by need
  • Shared ownership: allowing people to part-buy and part-rent a home, buyers must meet certain income criteria
  • Intermediate rent homes: 80% market rate housing
  • Supported housing: for those with additional needs, eg extra care homes.

Types of tenancy

  • Secure tenancy: tenants can live in their home for the rest of their lives, if they keep to the tenancy terms. Can only be issued by local authorities
  • Assured tenancy: a secure tenancy issued by a housing association
  • Assured fixed-term tenancy: a fixed-term tenancy of more than three years, typically issued by a housing association
  • Assured shorthold tenancy: the most common tenancy used by private landlords.

For more information, go to Shelter’s essential online guide to housing.