What is social housing?

Social homes have rents pegged to local incomes and provide a truly affordable, secure housing option for people across the country

What is social housing?

Social homes have rents pegged to local incomes and provide a truly affordable, secure housing option for people across the country

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.

Social housing is also sometimes referred to as council housing, although these types of homes are slightly different in terms of the type of tenancy agreement you sign, and the rights you have to property as a result.

The key idea of social housing is that it’s more affordable than private renting and usually provides a more secure, long-term tenancy. This gives social renters better rights, more control over their homes, and the chance to put down roots.

Right now, we’re facing a national housing emergency. Thousands of people are stuck living without a permanent home or the help they need to get one. Social homes are unique – they have the potential to provide good-quality housing to local people that is both secure and genuinely affordable. This is why we’re demanding that the government invests in a new generation of social homes.

How should it work?

It’s affordable

Social homes are the only type of housing where rents are linked to local incomes, making these the most affordable homes in most areas across the country.

Rents for social homes are significantly lower than private rents. Rent increases are also limited by government, which means homes should stay affordable long-term so people aren’t priced out of their communities by rising rents.

While the way social rents are set isn’t perfect, we believe they should always be affordable to local people, including people on low incomes.

It’s there for people who need it

Social housing should be there for anyone who needs it. At present, the law states who is entitled to social housing, and should get preference on the waiting list. But councils have lots of flexibility on who qualifies locally and social landlords can refuse to let to people if they choose to.

There are over a million households currently on social housing waiting lists in England. Unfortunately, the current chronic shortage of social homes means there aren't even enough for people who urgently need it, such as street homeless people and homeless families.

We believe that good-quality social housing should be there for anyone who needs it, including homeless families and individuals, struggling private renters, and others who can’t find a suitable home.

It’s stable

People in social housing usually have secure tenancies, giving them much greater protection from eviction and enhanced rights compared to those renting privately. This means families can put down roots, plan for the future and make their house a home.

A social home can provide the foundation people need to get on in life. While some recent governments have taken steps to reduce the security of social tenancies, Shelter will continue to fight for all renters to have the security they need.

It’s quality-controlled

On average, social homes are more likely to meet the standard for ‘decent’ housing. They are better insulated, more energy efficient, and more likely to have working smoke alarms than other types of housing.

Over the years, investment in maintaining and improving homes has been patchy, and social housing today is far from perfect. That’s why we will keep fighting until the country has enough decent homes for all.


A photo of Lauren looking through artwork in her new social home.

Lauren and her daughter recently secured a social home after many years on the waiting list.

'This time last year I could never have imagined being free from benefits – but now it’s completely achievable and that feels wonderful.'

Applying for social housing

It can be difficult to understand how to apply for social housing.

Find out how to apply for council house, and how to get a housing association home.

Demand the government build more social housing

Sign our petition