Social Housing in the United Kingdom
Social Housing in the UK has a long and winding history stretching back as far as the 11th century. Of course since then the stock of public housing and the policies (and organizations) that govern them have changed dramatically.
Today, social housing remains a vitally important segment of the UK housing estate. This article unpacks the details about the past, present and future state of social housing in the UK.
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It is hoped that it will be useful for both people involved in the design and management of public housing schemes (anywhere in the world), and those looking to make use of social housing in the UK.
What is Social Housing (UK meaning)?
In the UK context, social housing refers to homes provided by a Housing Association or a Local Council, rather than a private landlord. Although it should be noted that the act of renting social housing from a Housing Association and from a Local Council is slightly different, and has been explained in more detail in the section below.
The defining feature of social housing is lower rental rates, when compared with a comparable property on the private market.
Shelter [leading UK housing charity] explains it as follows: Social homes are provided by housing associations (not-for-profit organisations that own, let, and manage rented housing) or a local council. As a social tenant, you rent your home from the housing association or council, who are your landlord.
What’s the difference between Council Housing, Social Housing and Affordable Housing?
It can be a little confusing to unpick the minor differences between terminology in the UK on the matter of public, social, council, affordable housing. I have provided a brief description of each below:
- Public Housing: is a somewhat broad umbrella term used to confer housing that is not owned by a private corporation or private landlord. Public housing can be either council housing or social housing.
- Council Housing: refers to homes that are owned and managed by a UK local council. Until 2011, this was more common in the UK (see below for more historic detail).
- Social Housing: refers to homes that are owned by Housing Associations and charities. Since 2011, most public housing has been sold off to housing associations and charities who now manage the UK public housing stock.
- Affordable Housing: can be owned by either private developers or housing associations/ charities. In 2020, the UK Government introduced a change in the law meaning private developers now have to provide less affordable housing in their schemes. Affordable housing is not the focus of this article.
Evolution of UK Social Housing through history
Council flats in Leamington Spa - owned and managed by Warwick District Council
Before 1914 (pre-war): the Social Housing History blog provides a great overview of this chapter of history, so I recommend you review that site for more information. For an in-depth look at the history of public housing in the UK since the First World War, Wikipedia is a good resource.
Current situation in the UK
Growing waiting lists
As a result of many factors, there is currently an official waiting list for social housing of over 1 million households. In September 2020, the National Housing Federation estimated the actual number is 500,000 households higher. Then, then Local Housing Association released a report declaring the coronavirus pandemic had increased the waiting list to record levels - over 2 million households.
The situation is complex and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious commitment to help these households from the UK Government at present.
List of Social Housing providers in the UK
The UK Government maintains a list of registered providers of Social Housing in the UK which can be accessed here.
Who is eligible for Social Housing in the UK?
In general, to gain a place on the waiting list, you must be either:
- a British citizen, settled in the UK, and over the age of 18 (although some councils accept applications from younger residents),
- a citizen of another country with a permanent right to remain in the UK.
Most councils and housing associations have adopted a points-based system to access and prioritize applicants for social housing. The criteria that can affect your points (but scoring systems vary) include:
- whether or not you are homeless currently,
- whether or not you currently live in cramped accommodation,
- whether or not your existing housing has caused some form of medical illness,
- how long you have been living in that area,
- whether you are working in the area,
- your income level.
Commitment to house key workers in London
Key workers in London will gain priority access to Social Housing
In March 2021, Mayor of London confirmed plans to update planning guidance with a list of key workers to be given priority access to new or rented affordable homes in the capital - report more about this amendment in Inside Housing.
Social Housing near me (UK)
Whether you’re looking for social housing in London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds - in fact, anywhere in the UK, this list of resources should have you covered:
- The UK Government website for Council Housing is a good place to start, here can search through your postcode for local authority housing in your area.
- HomeFinderUK is another good resource for finding social housing in the UK. You can filter by number of bedrooms, property type and accessible housing categories.
- Climate Just provides a free map of social tenant properties (requires login).
- HousingNet provides a paid solution to businesses that want to conduct analysis on the UK’s housing stock (including Social Housing).
Apply for social housing
Visit this link to apply for social housing through the UK Government portal. You can only apply to one housing authority. Normally you must be living in the area already in which you are applying for social housing. Of course you should remember that waiting lists are incredibly long and you may be waiting years or even decades until you are given access to a social home in the UK.
Screenshot of the UK Government portal to apply for social housing
Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (UK)
The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) was introduced as a demonstrator project by the UK Government in 2020. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) commissioned IFF Research to conduct research into the decarbonisation of social housing stock in the UK. This research is seen as a precursor to guide the UK Government’s proposed £3.6bn SHDF programme.