What is social housing?
This content applies to England only.
Social housing is housing that is let at low rents and on a secure basis to people in housing need. It is generally provided by councils and not-for-profit organisations such as housing associations.
Social housing provides affordable housing
A key function of social housing is to provide accommodation that is affordable to people on low incomes. Rents in the social housing sector are kept low through state subsidy. The social housing sector is currently governed by a strictly defined system of rent control to ensure that rents are kept affordable.
Social housing is allocated on the basis of need
Unlike the private rental sector, in which tenancies are offered according to the free choice of the landlord or existing household in question, social housing is allocated according to need.
Each social landlord operates an allocations policy, stating in advance what factors will be taken into account when deciding who gets preference for the limited amount of social housing on offer. These policies must include 'reasonable preference criteria' that are set out in law, but beyond this, allocations policies can be drawn up at the discretion of the social landlord.
Social housing is owned and managed by social landlords
Social landlords are the bodies that own and manage social housing. They tend to be non-commercial organisations such as local authorities or housing associations. Housing associations are independent, not-for-profit organisations that use any surpluses they generate to maintain existing homes and to help finance new ones. It is now possible for commercial organisations to build and manage social housing, although this is not yet common practice.
Social housing is tightly regulated
Social housing and landlords are tightly regulated. The Government department currently responsible for overseeing the social housing sector is Communities and Local Government (CLG). CLG has direct oversight of local authority housing. Housing associations are funded by the Government through the Homes and Communities Agency, which is responsible for the construction of new social homes.
Shelter believes that any definition of social housing must include the requirement for all social housing to offer:
- low rents affordable for people working on the minimum wage
- security of tenure for life.