Focus on: Housing associations


Housing associations are organisations that own property to rent out to tenants. They were developed with the aim of making accommodation available and affordable for all, particularly those on lower incomes. While housing associations offer similar types of housing as local councils, housing associations are not-for-profit and independent. As well as providing general housing, housing associations often provide supported accommodation for groups such as older people, those with mental health problems and disabled people. They may also provide wider charitable services, such as community services and regeneration, and support to vulnerable people. In fact, in 2016 around a third of housing associations were registered charities.

Data on housing associations comes from a variety of different sources and is sparse in some areas. Therefore, this section primarily focuses on housing associations in England with a spotlight on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland towards the end of this chapter.

Size and scope

Most private registered providers of social housing are housing associations

According to a survey conducted by the Regulator of Social Housing, in 2017/18 there were 1,432 Private Registered Providers (PRP) of social housing in England. These providers are approved and regulated by the government but are independent (ie they are not state-owned local authority providers). In 2017/18, the majority of these (91%) were housing associations and 2% were for-profit organisations. Of the housing associations, 79% were categorised as smaller, ie owning less than 1,000 units.

One in ten households live in a housing association property

According to the 2017/18 English Housing Survey, there were an estimated 23.3m households in England (excluding those living in institutional accommodation such as nursing homes, halls or residences etc). Of these, around two thirds (64%) were occupied by homeowners and around a fifth (19%) were private rented households. The remaining 17% of total households were social rented households, of which 7% were rented from local councils and 10% rented from housing associations. This equates to roughly 2.4m households living in properties managed by housing associations in England.

People who rent from housing associations are more likely to be older, retired or disabled

According to the English Housing Survey 2017/18, housing association tenants were more likely to be older, with a third (29%) of housing association households aged 65 or over compared to thee percent aged 16—24. Similarly, almost a third (31%) of households were retired.

People from a white ethnic background were more likely to be housing association tenants (87%) than those from an ethnic minority background (13%), which is broadly reflective of the ethnic backgrounds of the UK population. People from an ethnic minority were more likely to live in local authority housing (19%) and rent privately (18%) than other types of housing.

Housing associations were the most popular types of housing for women (58%) and the least popular for men (42%). Inversely, men were more likely to buy housing with a mortgage (63%) than women (37%).[1]

Households with disabled people or those with a long-term illness were more likely to live in housing association accommodation (56%) than private rented accommodation (26%).

The number of households renting through housing associations has increased

The number of households living in housing association properties has increased from 2m in 2008/09[2] to 2.4m in 2017/18. Over the same time period, the number of those living in council-owned properties has declined from 1.9m in 2008/09 to 1.6m in 2017/18.

Private rented accommodation outnumbers social housing as a whole

Despite the number of residents in housing association properties increasing, social housing as a whole (ie local authority housing and housing associations) has declined since its peak in 1981 at 5.5m social housing residents, steadying out in 2008/09 (3.8m) and standing at 4m in 2017/18. On the other hand, the number of households living in private rented housing has increased, surpassing the number of those in social rented accommodation in 2011/12.

Housing associations are building more housing, the majority of which is affordable housing

According to research from the National Housing Federation, their members built 45,604 new homes in England during 2018/19, a 10% increase from the previous year. The majority (85%) of these were affordable housing: affordable rent (19,244), affordable home ownership (14,290) or social rent (5,183).[3] The increase in affordable housing is largely driven by a 10% increase in new homes for affordable home ownership, from 8,767 in 2015/16 to 14,290 in 2018/19.

Additionally, National Housing Federation members started building 49,372 homes in 2018/19, a 13% increase compared to 2017/18. Similar to completed builds, the majority (84%) of these were affordable housing.


Housing associations have increased their income

According to the Regulator of Social Housing[4], housing associations in England with over 1000 properties had an annual turnover of £20.5bn in 2018. This has increased from £20bn in the previous year. They spent £13bn on operating costs, resulting in £4.4bn comprehensive income. In addition, they made £15.4bn from Social Housing Lettings (SHL) and spent £10.3bn on expenditure relating to SHL, leaving a surplus of £5bn. In total, housing associations had £49.5bn net assets in 2018, increasing from £45.2bn in 2017.


A changing housing market?

Housing associations are offering more social housing than previously due to the number of affordable housing being built increasing. There are now more households living in housing association accommodation (2.4 million) than local authority housing (1.6 million). In particular, the number of affordable home ownership housing built by housing associations has increased by 29% between 2017/18 and 2018/19, while the large-scale voluntary transfer of stock from local authorities to Private Registered Providers (PRPs) and Right to Buy sales has led to a decrease in available local authority homes.

The increase in housing association tenants could be linked to the rising demand for affordable housing that isn’t being met by local authority housing or private renting. One of the key missions of housing associations is to support people that may be priced out of private renting or home ownership. This is reflected in the statistics on housing association tenants which show that those at a higher risk to poverty such as pensioners, disabled people or those living with a long-term health condition are more likely to live in housing association homes than rent privately.

However, while those in housing association homes have outnumbered those in local authority homes, the proportion of private renters is increasing, outnumbering social renters since 2011/12. The rise in private rented accommodation would suggest that the unmet need for affordable housing, is pushing those unable to get social housing into the private rental sector. With rising rent costs for private housing and a potential economic recession on the horizon due to covid-19, demand for affordable housing is likely to further increase .


  1. These figures relate to the Household Reference Person (HRP)- the person who answers the survey on behalf of the household. HRP's provide an individual person within a household to act as a reference point for producing further derived statistics and for characterising a whole household according to characteristics of the chosen reference person.

  2. Separate housing association/local authority estimates are not available prior to 2008/09. This is because a large number of housing association tenants wrongly report that that they are local authority tenants; most commonly because their home used to be owned by the council but had transferred to a housing association. Since 2008/09, an adjustment has been made for this.

  3. According to the National Housing Federation, socially rented and affordable rented homes are offered to those on lower incomes and at a subsidised rent, with affordable rented homes usually rented at 80% of the average local market rent, and social rent at around 50% of the local market. According to the National Planning Policy Framework, affordable home ownership includes starter homes (ie purchased by qualifying first-time buyers only), discounted market sales housing, shared ownership, equity loans and rent to buy.

  4. The Regulator of Social Housing Global Accounts collates annual returns from housing associations with 1000+ properties (230 housing associations). Therefore, the figures in this report are an underestimate of the total figures in England.

  5. Beaufort research, Houston economic consulting: ‘Socio-economic impact of the housing association and community mutual sector’ 2017/18, November 2018

  6. This survey was based on 70 members, so may not be reflective of the wider housing association sector in Wales.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 13 August 2020