What is a housing association and what services do they offer?

What is a housing association?

A not-for-profit organisation which owns, lets and manages rental housing. As not-for-profit organisations, revenue acquired through rent is ploughed back into the acquisition and maintenance of property.

Beyond this definition there is very wide variation. Housing associations may or may not be registered charities, and they may or may not be geared towards assisting particular social groups with accommodation – for instance, older or disabled people. Rent may or may not be subsidised to varying degrees.

Housing associations are classified by the property industry as “registered social landlords”, along with YMCA hostels and housing co-operatives.

Accommodation owned by housing associations is known as “social housing”, a loose term which incorporates government-owned council housing and other affordable accommodation.

Who is their accommodation for?

Everybody. Housing associations were developed with the aim of making accommodation available and affordable for all. In the recent past they have been perceived as an option for those in the lower-income brackets or in particular need. However, as housing becomes more expensive, especially in larger cities, housing association rentals may increasingly provide the best opportunity for younger people to find a home in a desirable area. They may also offer financial assistance for people buying their own property who, for a variety of reasons, would be unable to honour a commercial mortgage deal.

Housing association accommodation is often utilised as an alternative to council-owned housing and the majority of tenants are still referred to housing associations through their local authority, generally because they initially apply for council housing but are assessed as not being in great enough need. The referral might also be given because a housing association in the area which is specifically tailored to their needs (for example, younger single people or those with mental health problems).

Do they provide any other services?

In addition to general housing provision, the majority of supported accommodation in the UK is run by housing associations. This is targeted at specific groups – older people, or those with mental health problems or disabilities, etc. To be classified as “supported accommodation”, a certain amount of services must be provided in addition to housing – assistance, therapy, meals, etc.

How did housing associations develop?

Unique to the UK, they originally appeared in the post-Industrial revolution years of the 19th century, emerging alongside the new middle-class. They grew in importance in the 1960s and 70s with the increase in emphasis on social inclusion, and grew in the 1980s, when limitations imposed on council housing by the Thatcher government enabled them to take over a much bigger share of the social housing market, increasing in size and importance.

In recent years, housing associations have been put under increased pressure to be accountable and to provide value for taxpayer’s money, which have caused the government to come under the criticism that their service is becoming more commercial and less beneficial to the poorest sectors of society.

What can I expect from the service? Pros and Cons

Just as associations vary in so many ways (in terms of the type of property they own, their objectives, the type of resident they target services at, etc), so, too, the quality and efficiency of the services provided vary greatly between organisations. Investigate thoroughly before you commit to a property. Talk to existing residents and ask about the procedures in place for investigating complaints and service requests. Walk around: are pavements and walkways clear of rubbish? Is graffiti a problem?

Housing associations generally provide rental accommodation at “affordable” prices; of course, the definition of affordable varies between areas and associations. However, the obvious advantages to renting from a housing association include rent which is usually subsidized to below market value. As mentioned above, some may also offer shared-ownership schemes to assist people who want to buy a property but cannot afford to do so independently.

Additionally, you are dealing with a large, registered and audited company rather than an individual landlord, providing increased peace of mind; you have less chance of getting a dodgy deal, and an established complaints procedure to deal with any difficulties.

One of the key characteristics of housing associations is that they are overseen by a voluntary committee or board, which usually includes residents. If the system works, this makes them a democratic housing management process, allowing residents a say in the running of their homes. Unfortunately, as with any democratic system there is of course a risk that the decision-making process may be ineffectual and long-winded, and endless hours of meetings required to resolve any problems!

Although the properties owned by associations do vary in character, the majority of accommodation is composed of complexes (typically blocks and estates of flats) rather than individual properties. You should consider this before you approach a housing association (or your local council, usually the first port of call).

How are these associations regulated?

The Homes and Community Agency is the executive non-departmental public body responsible for providing homes and business premises for those that need them.

Elsewhere in the UK, this function is performed by Scottish Housing Regulator, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and the Welsh Assembly

These agencies provide housing associations with advice and support, and regulate their performance through regular inspection against specific criteria. Inspections are geared in the main towards financial performance and efficiency, rather than the experience they provide for individual residents, but it might be worth visiting the relevant website and checking a housing association’s performance before you seek their help in finding accommodation.

Facts and Figures

In England:
  • there are 1,500 housing associations
  • providing around 2 million homes
  • for over 5 million residents
  • overseen by more than 30,000 volunteer committee members

Any big names?

Housing over 50,000 people, the Peabody Trust is one of the biggest housing associations in Greater London, with property in many immensely desirable locations (such as Waterloo, walking distance to London’s west end, and classy Fulham). Its mission statement boldly declares that its aims are “to tackle poverty, provide good, affordable housing and to make a difference through every project or initiative it undertakes.” The Trust manages a wide range of “social housing” accommodation, which includes both housing estates and individual properties, and also has accommodation at market value or a subsidized market value.

Residents must be referred via their local authority for social housing, but market value accommodation is open to all applicants. However, tenants of market value accommodation are required to be in full-time employment to be eligible.

Case Studies

Resident 1:

Key worker accommodation resident

Name: Gideon

Age: 22

Occupation: Teacher (on the TeachFirst scheme for graduates)

From: Nottingham. Moved to London for job

Salary: £20,000/year

Lives: Key worker accommodation in Vauxhall, central London

Rent: £400/month, inclusive of bills and council tax

Reasons for choosing Housing Association Accommodation: It’s specially geared towards key workers and rent is lower than commercial prices. I couldn’t afford to live in such a nice central area if I was paying commercial rates. Plus the property is new and clean and electricity etc is included. On the down side, I have to share a kitchen, which can be annoying. However, it’s very sociable – everyone in my building is very friendly and in some ways it’s just like being back in halls at university!

Resident 2:

Mother in a housing association flat

Name: Samantha

Age: 31

Occupation: Trained as a nurse, currently a full-time mum

From: Manchester, moved to London with husband

Salary: n/a. Supported partially by ex-husband, partially through benefits

Lives: 3 bedroom flat in Eltham, South London

Rent: £250/month, partially covered by housing benefit

Reasons for choosing Housing Association Accommodation: When I separated from my husband I first approached the council for housing and was passed on to the housing association. I was initially housed in a very small flat in a central London estate, but after a month they were able to transfer me to this roomy flat in Eltham. I like the flexibility that a big housing association with lots of property provides, but the downside is definitely the redtape and paperwork.

23 comments on “What is a housing association and what services do they offer?

  1. Emma harris on

    Hi i have a numbered of medical letters for my son and my self sent to the councils in Chelmsford, I also have received a letter from the peadiatrision requesting for my son to have his own room and garden/ which has also now been sent to them. There response was to call you for your help, as you have properties available. Would be so grateful if I here back x

  2. Brenda Thompson on

    I wish to return to live back in England. I am English currently living in Utah USA. My husband (American) and I lived for 10 years 2006-2016 in Tebay, Cumbria CA103XT.
    We returned to the UK 2016 due to my husband’s health. He died four months later and I have been paying off doctor’s , dialysis, and hospital bills. Now I’m almost ready to return to my homeland but would need to rent either an apartment or house, approximately £600 per month either in Cumbria or North Yorkshire Dales to be near siblings. I need advice, help in making the move. Can you help?

    • Franki Napolitano
      Franki Napolitano on

      Hi Brenda,

      Your best bet is to sign up to rental property alerts with a local estate agent; set your location and budget an you will receive email updates when properties that match your criteria pop up. Good luck!

  3. Michael Sutcliffe on

    I am a landlord. I have been approached by a single lady with 3 children . She asks “do I take Housing Association ”
    Do you pay rents or assist with rent payments ?

    • Franki Napolitano
      Franki Napolitano on

      Hi there,

      We aren’t a housing association, but I used to work for one so have some knowledge!

      It is entirely dependant on the tenant and their circumstances. Some people qualify to have all of their housing paid for by the council (Housing Benefit) and some will be eligible for partial help. This is usually dependant on their employment status and what their Benefit Cap is.

      Let’s say their rent was £500*; the landlord (you) would receive the £500 directly form the council in arrears, unless Universal Credit is in place in your area, where the money is paid directly to the tenant and they pay on to you.

      Some people are entitled to partial housing benefit in which say £400 of the £500 would be paid by the council and the remaining £100 by the tenant.

      It will also depend on the type of mortgage you have on your property as I believe some mortgage contracts won’t allow for it.

      At the end of the day, if you think you as a landlord could make it work and have the means to, there’s nothing stopping you from having a wider conversation with your potential tenant to fully understand her financial situation before either of you enter into an agreement.

      I hope you found that helpful!


      *£500 used as an example as this was the approx. cost of a 3 bed house rented from the housing association I worked for in Hampshire.

  4. Kathryn Hughes on

    What is the discount when buying Peabody flat ?? Lived in property for 20 Years was transferred from council property ?

  5. Karen Richmond on

    Please help. My children currently reside with their father but due to ongoing issues its going back to court for shared custody.
    I have been left with sufficient size accommodation for very little time with my children that is just not feesable.
    On the basis that shated custody is agreed, i am left stuck in one county whilst he moved the children so having not lived there 5 years + i am not eligable for a council house.
    As he is currently claiming all benefits i cant see that changing, which leaves me in a situation having to move to a home big enough to accomodate.
    As deviously thought through this was by my ex, this only gives me these options.
    1) moving to accommodation i can currently afford but not accommodate my children and the other which is anyway not feesable .
    Its heartbreaking as i was originally told to stay in my current town as that was where my children were schooling.
    Just need some advice to see if i can register with anywhere

    • Luc Horncastle
      Luc Horncastle on

      Hi Karen,

      Sorry to hear about the current situation you find yourself in. Our best suggestion is for you to speak to your local authority and the CAB, they will have all the info you need on this.

      I hope you are able to resolve this issue

  6. Rifi on

    I’m disabled and living in property that’s private rental. I’ve been in the flat for twelve years but it’s finally got to point that mobility has got a lot worse and am practically wheelchair bound. I’m on the council waiting list but have never seen a property suitable that meets my needs. My OT has been out to assess the flat but to make adaptions but I feel I no longer want to live her and would rather go into a warden control property, but apparently I’m to young as you have to be 60 years old and I’m only 49. Is there housing organisation that might be able to help me with my housing needs. I live in North London.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *