Renting social housing

This page has technical information about renting from the council or a registered social landlord (housing association).Renting an ordinary house from a local authority or housing association is an increasingly common choice. If necessary the property can be adapted if it is not already suitable.

Housing let by councils or housing associations is known as 'social housing'. Housing associations are also called 'Registered Social Landlords'. Registration, in this case, means with the Tenant Services Authority.

Much local authority housing is on large estates while housing associations tend to have more small estates or ordinary street properties that have been refurbished or converted. Quite a lot of councils have transferred their properties to local housing associations. This is called Large Scale Voluntary Transfer (LSVT).

Properties can be let to one person or two or three people may share a property either as joint tenants or possibly with each having their own tenancy. Some do not encourage sharing of ordinary, 'general needs' housing. Support and care can be provided to disabled people in their own home so this is a common route to independent supported living.

How to access

Local housing authorities are now required to operate what is called ìchoice based lettingsî. In most areas local authorities and housing associations have put their waiting lists together so there is a 'common waiting list'. You obtain social housing by joining this waiting list - Rental series – number 4.

This is done by filling in a form about your circumstances and what you need which you get from the local housing authority. This puts you on a register.

Choice based lettings work like this:

  • The applicant is placed in a band according to the urgency and need to move. There are usually 3 or 4 bands – A, B, C and D. Those in Band A are often statutory homeless and get highest priority
  • Medical or social care needs tend to put people with a learning disability in Band A or B and thus get high priority. It is important to fill these parts of the application form in thoroughly. There may be scope for adding in additional reports or supporting letters
  • Properties are advertised as they become available each week. This may be on the authority's website and a newsletter. There may also be a folder or display in the council offices
  • People on the housing register bid for properties that are suitable and in the right area or that they like
  • The highest priority bidders (perhaps 3 or 4) are invited to view the property
  • The successful person is the one who says they want the property and has been waiting longest.

People with learning disabilities may need help:

  • Filling in forms
  • Pro-actively bidding
  • Viewing property quickly
  • Making a decision quickly.
Application processes vary and particularly where the landlord is a housing association there may be an interview. Local authorities usually have the right to ìnominateî, (put forward) applicants for a proportion of housing association property in their area although the actual decision on who to let to is the housing association's (1).

Pros and cons


  • 17.7% of Englandís housing stock is ordinary social housing
  • Security of tenure; tenants of RSLs usually have ìassured tenanciesî offering good security and council tenants have a ìsecure tenancyî
  • Rents in social housing are nearly always met in full by housing benefit for those who qualify. They are also only very exceptionally referred to a rent officer
  • Social landlords management and maintenance services and quality are monitored and inspected and should be of a good standard
  • Local authorities and housing association are expected to assess the most vulnerable people in housing need get housed despite the fact (surprisingly) there is not any duty to them.


  • Demand for social housing far exceeds supply; long waiting list. It may therefore take several years to get a suitable property
  • Housing associations are the only real way of getting new, purpose built social housing
  • In some areas there may be very few properties like bungalows and other people such as those over a certain age may be given higher priority. What is needed may simply not be available in the social housing sector, in the short term, if at all
  • Some large estates may not offer a secure and welcoming environment for a vulnerable person.

How the money works

Housing associations and council rents are now very similar. Rents set by housing associations or local authorities on ordinary housing are invariably covered by housing benefit. This will include property maintenance and eligible service charges.

Other issues

Other thinks to consider include:

  • RSLs or local authorities may have other shared housing not part of choice based lettings because it is more specialised or intended for use by disabled people. This is accessed through Adult Social Care not the housing authorityAdult Social Care may also control access to a quota of ordinary housing
  • In some areas it may still be possible to apply directly to a housing association which continues to control the letting of at least some of their stock.
1 - Hall, C. et al, ìChoice based lettings and people with learning disabilitiesî, 2008, VPST

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