Who gets social housing?

This content applies to England only.

who gets social housing

Social housing provides stable, affordable homes for those at the sharp end of the housing crisis. In England, social housing accounts for 17% of all households.

Because there isn’t enough social housing to go around, more and more people who would benefit from this type of housing have to rent privately instead. For the first time in decades, private renters outnumber those living in social housing.

To check if you are eligible for social housing, please visit our advice pages.

How is social housing allocated?

The main factors are:

  • Whether the individual is eligible to apply
  • Whether there is enough social housing to go around in their area

The amount of social housing varies from place to place. For example, in London and the South East the demand is much higher than in most other parts of the country. If people are subject to immigration control – that is, if they need permission to enter or stay in the UK – they won’t be able to join a council housing list. This also applies to those who have returned to live in the UK after spending a long time abroad - even if they have a right to live here.

A person may also be ineligible if they haven’t lived in the area for long enough, or if the local authority believes that they (or any other members of the household) are guilty of unacceptable behaviour.

Some people are deemed ineligible because they have breached a previous tenancy – for example, because they were in arrears with their rent. This can happen even if the council has agreed they are eligible and should have priority.

Housing allocation policies

All local authorities are free to set their own housing allocation policy as long as they agree to certain rules.

By law, local authorities must clearly set out procedures and priorities by which social housing will be allocated, and must make sure that information on these policies is made available to the public. Local authorities must also give the following groups 'reasonable preference':

  • people who are legally classed as homeless (or threatened with homelessness): the law classes a person as homeless when they have no home that is available and reasonable to occupy
  • people living in unsanitary, overcrowded or otherwise unsatisfactory housing
  • people who need to move for medical or welfare reasons
  • people who need to move to a particular location (for example, to be nearer to special medical facilities) and who would suffer hardship if they were unable to do so

Most local authorities operate points-based or band-based systems. These take into account how long applicants have been on the waiting list for social housing, their level of housing need, and other priorities. You can find more information here.

Housing associations also operate their own waiting lists and lettings policies, although they are expected to make a proportion of their lettings available to applicants approved by local authorities. You can find more information about how this works here.

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