Improving social housing

This content applies to England only.


With home ownership out of reach and private rents continuing to soar, social housing is the only genuinely affordable accommodation for many people in England today.

But it is much more than this: it provides a decent and secure home for those who can’t afford or obtain a mortgage. It allows our economy to function properly, giving those on lower incomes a chance to live in areas where there are jobs.

In other words, social housing is a vital part of our country's makeup.

What is social housing?

Social housing is accommodation let at low rents to those most in need of a stable, affordable home. It is usually provided by councils and not-for-profit organisations such as housing associations.

Not everyone is entitled to social housing. Local councils decide how to allocate it to meet local priorities, but generally offer places to people who are struggling with housing costs or in need of a more secure home. You can find out about social housing allocation here.

Social housing today

With a shortage of homes, the waiting lists for social housing have never been longer. There are more than 1.8 million households in England on the waiting list for a home – an increase of 81% since 1997.

This means that some families living in desperate conditions are being forced to wait years for a suitable home. They may have to live for months on end in temporary accommodation such as hostels or B&Bs, uncertain of where they'll be moved to next, or how much longer they'll have to wait for stability.

Others will be left with no choice but to live in the private rented sector. With short-term contracts, unpredictability, poor conditions and high costs, this form of housing is unsuitable for many families and households. Especially those who are vulnerable and in need of a stable, secure home.

Find out more about the problems with social housing, and Shelter’s recommendations for how to solve them.

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