What is social housing? All your questions answered

The Brunswick Centre social housing in Bloomsbury, London

Social housing is a phrase that’s used a lot, but not often explained. What is social housing? Who is it for? How does it work? Read on for a full rundown on this essential property type and how it fits into the UK property landscape.

What is social housing?

In the UK, social housing is a property development programme where housing associations, local councils and their partner developers rent out homes on a not-for-profit basis. Social housing covers a wide range of property types across the country.

What is the purpose of social housing?

The purpose of social housing is to provide affordable, decent homes to those who need it. There is still a severe shortage of quality affordable properties in the UK, with over one million households on social housing waiting lists. The expanding programme is designed to address this shortage, giving vulnerable and low-income households access to homes.

Family moving into social housing.

How does social housing work?

Social housing works by letting those eligible apply and then secure a tenancy agreement on a property owned by a council, housing association or approved property development partner. Tenants rent their home like a normal tenancy. However, they pay a monthly rate that is significantly lower than what is usually charged in the local area.

Who qualifies for social housing UK?

Qualifying for social housing is different depending on where you are in the UK. This is because the availability of properties, and number of people waiting for them, differs from place to place. However, there are some common factors involved.

Social housing is designed for people who cannot afford to rent or buy a suitable home on the open market. To qualify for social housing in the UK you only need to be a UK citizen, or have a right to remain in the UK with no restrictions. However, your position on the waiting list depends on:

  • Your income status
  • The condition of your current home (i.e.: if it is cramped, or hazardous to your health)
  • If you care for someone resident in the area
  • If you have connection to the local area and if you have already lived there for some time

Remember – nobody has an automatic right to social housing. It is a process that you must apply for and your success will depend on a wide range of factors.

What is affordable social rent?

Affordable social rent is one of the main ideas behind social housing. It means that tenants will rent at a monthly rate that is significantly lower than the market average. Most housing associations and councils will rent at a rate at around 60% of local market prices for similar properties.

The coalition government brought in the affordable rent tenure in 2010. It capped the rent of social housing at 80% of market rent levels within the local area.

Mother and daughter packing boxes.

How is social rent calculated?

Housing associations calculate rent on social housing by first comparing the average rental rates of similar properties in the area. Then, they will apply their chosen percentage level to that figure – often around 60% but no higher than 80%. Then they will adjust the final figure up or down depending on particular features of the property.

You should note that if you are renting a social housing flat or property within a communal building, you may still have to pay service charges. The property owner will make any charges clear in the tenancy agreement.

What is the difference between social housing and council housing?

The difference between social housing and council housing is that they offer slightly different types of tenancy agreements. They are broadly similar in their purpose and how they work, just with minor differences regarding factors like tenant rights, eviction processes, tenancy duration, charges and so on.

Woman with packing boxes.

What are the disadvantages of social housing?

A potential disadvantage of social housing is that projects can be mismanaged, leading to poor quality builds and/or maintenance. Additionally, there is only a finite amount of public money invested in social housing. Sometimes projects can run out of funds, leading to cut corners or a lack of ongoing support for residents.

However, this is the exception, not the rule. Affordable housing is currently a much-discussed political and societal issue. The Government just announced another £8.6 billion of investments to build 120,000 affordable homes, with 30,000 earmarked for social rent.

What are the benefits of social housing?

The main benefit of social housing is that it provides homes at much cheaper rental rates. This is especially important for people living in cities who are being priced out of renting and buying.

Other benefits include higher availability of longer-term fixed tenancies, which gives tenants extra stability.


If you’re looking to rent or buy and need extra help, take a look at our many guides. There are plenty with extra information on help-to-buy, housing associations and other key elements of securing your home.

HomeViews provides verified resident reviews of the UK’s housing developments. We’re working with developers, house builders, operators, housing associations and the Government to recognise high performers and help improve standards in the built environment.

Jan Moys
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Jan Moys

A copywriter and content specialist with over 13 years’ experience across arc... Read all

A copywriter and content specialist w... Read all