Allocation of PRPSH properties
Private registered providers of social housing (PRPSH) usually allocate the majority of properties to tenants nominated by local authorities.
Common registers and contracting out allocation functions
Local authorities can maintain joint housing registers with PRPSHs called common registers, which entitle the local authority to access properties managed by those PRPSHs.
Local authorities can also contract most of their allocation functions to PRPSHs.
Waiting lists and nominations
PRPSHs are required to work with local authorities to enable them to fulfil their duties to homeless and vulnerable people, and those in priority housing need.
Allocations are required to be flexible, non-discriminatory, and responsive to demand, while contributing to the need to be inclusive and the need to ensure sustainable communities. PRPSHs are required to publish their housing allocations scheme and rules for allocations including transfers and mutual exchanges.
PRPSHs are also required to make the scheme and rules available at their principal office for inspection by members of the public.
In practice, the majority of all PRPSHs' lettings to 'general-needs' (as opposed to 'special-needs' accommodation) are made to those nominated by local authority housing departments. These lettings may go either to people registered on the authority's waiting list or transfer list, or those in temporary accommodation following a homelessness application.
To allocate the remainder of their vacant properties, most PRPSHs accept referrals or nominations from other statutory or voluntary organisations. These may include social services departments, the probation service, district health authorities, and advice centres.
A PRPSH may also have a public waiting list, but referrals often take precedence over those registered on it. In addition, a proportion of lettings of general-needs accommodation may be made to people moving out of special-needs housing schemes, particularly any managed by the PRPSH itself.
A person who has the right to 'dispose of' premises (ie sell, rent, or assign) must not unlawfully discriminate against any person on the basis of a protected characteristic.
An obligation not to discriminate is also placed on those concerned with the provision of services to the public, or to a section of the public, whether in the private, public or voluntary sectors. This covers the provision of a system for the allocation of social housing.
Defences to claim of discrimination
‘Positive action’ to tackle disadvantage faced by those sharing a protected characteristic can be lawful even if it has the consequence of disadvantaging those sharing a different protected characteristic. Positive action to compensate for disadvantages linked to a particular protected characteristics can be justified (and lawful) where it is proportionate.
A charitable housing association will not be in breach of its obligations if it restricts any of its services to persons who share a protected characteristic, such as membership of a religious community, where that is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. This exception does not apply where the protected characteristic is defined by colour.
Vacancies are also allocated to existing tenants who need more suitable accommodation. Criteria for making transfers are normally the same as those used for making allocations to non-tenants. However, additional criteria may be used when a transfer is seen to serve the broader interests of the PRPSH, for example, when a tenant is decanted from a property that the association wishes to improve or demolish, or to assist the solution of a dispute between neighbours.
PRPSHs can deny a transfer to a tenant who the PRPSH feels is guilty of unacceptable behaviour.
PRPSHs may also agree to move a tenant to a more suitable property if the household size changes.
It is also possible for two (or more) tenants to exchange their homes for mutual benefit.
Transfers between PRPSHs and other landlords
In cases where a tenant wishes to move to an area in which their own PRPSH does not operate, or to a type of property that is not available from their PRPSH, a transfer can be arranged either to another PRPSH or to a local authority.
Some local authorities operate housing mobility schemes to help tenants find someone to exchange homes with. The local authority can provide information about such schemes. There are also a number of independent schemes, some of which are free.
For more information, see Gov.uk – Swap your council or housing association home.
In all applications for transfer or exchange, PRPSHs are entitled to consider a tenant's previous behaviour with respect to rent payment and other aspects of housing management, in addition to the usual lettings criteria.
Security of tenure
Tenants who transfer or exchange may be granted a different type of tenancy in the new property. This could potentially lead to them losing certain rights.
For example, a secure tenant who changes housing association landlord as a result of a mutual exchange becomes an assured tenant and lose their secure tenancy and certain rights, such as the right to buy.
Last updated: 22 March 2021
s.162(3) Housing Act 1996.
para 1.1, Tenancy standard, HCA, April 2012; in Wales, cl.1.3.2 Regulatory Code for Housing Associations Registered in Wales, Welsh Government, 2006.
s.106 Housing Act 1985, as amended.
s.33 Equality Act 2010.
s.29 Equality Act 2010.
s.193(2)(b) Equality Act 2010; R (on the application of Z & Anor) v Hackney LBC  UKSC 40.
ss.193 and 194 Equality Act 2010; R (on the application of Z & Anor) v Hackney LBC  UKSC 40.