What is a Housing Association? All your questions answered

Around six million people in England have been helped to secure affordable homes through housing associations. But what is a housing association? Our guide explains exactly how these organisations help make renting and homeownership affordable for millions of people across the country.

What is a housing association?

A housing association is a not-for-profit organisation set up to offer affordable housing options. There are over 1,500 housing associations in the UK. Most of them work with local councils to help deliver different types of affordable housing schemes to rent or buy.

Housing associations reinvest all the profits they make from property sales and rents. They spend them on maintenance and improvements for existing properties, or on building new homes.

What are the different types of homes offered by a housing association?

Housing associations across the UK offer many different types of affordable home schemes, including:

Social homes: The most common type of home provided by housing associations are ‘social rented’ and ‘affordable rented’ homes. In both cases, the housing association heavily subsidises the rent paid by the residents.  For social rented homes, eligible renters only pay only around 50% of the average local market rent. For affordable rented homes, the usual rent level is about 80% of the local average rate.

Shared ownership homes: This is a path to homeownership designed for people on lower incomes who are finding it difficult to raise a deposit. Instead of buying the property outright, you buy only a percentage that you can afford – between 25-75%. Then you pay a heavily reduced rent on the remainder of the property (the part still owned by the housing association).

We have a full guide to shared ownership that explains this system in more detail.

Supported and specialist housing: Housing associations offer these homes to help older people and those with physical or emotional support needs. Examples include extra space for those with mobility difficulties, or specialist services for those suffering from homelessness or domestic abuse.

Market homes to rent and buy: Alongside affordable homes, housing associations also build and sell/rent homes at market rates. This is to help boost revenues that can then be reinvested in social housing schemes.

The National Housing Federation has more information on the different types of affordable home schemes available.

Who is eligible for housing association homes?

To be eligible for social housing schemes, the first thing you need to do is get on your local council’s housing register. There are different criteria for different councils, but generally you must:

Be 18 years old or over (55 or over for sheltered housing applicants)Not have refused any offer or nomination of suitable accommodation within the last two yearsHave a housing need (e.g., your local area is overcrowded, or your accommodation is not suitable for medical reasons) Fall below a stated income threshold

How do I apply for a housing association home?

Applying for a housing association home can be done through the association itself. Usually it involves an application process, sometimes with an interview. You may go on a waiting list if the housing association is heavily subscribed already.

You can find out more about the process of applying for housing association homes through this Gov.uk website page.

Who gets priority for housing association homes?

Housing associations will give priority to older people, people who are homeless, people with medical needs and those who currently live in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions.

Different housing associations have different priorities for their affordable housing schemes. You can find out what they are easily online or over the phone.

How long can you live in a housing association property?

If you successfully apply to buy or rent a housing association property, you can arrange a fixed-term tenancy or an assured tenancy. Fixed-term tenancies last for 5 years and you can usually renew them without difficulty. Assured tenancies mean you can live in the property for the rest of your life.

The only additional consideration is that the housing association might decide to sell your home at some point if you only rent it. However, most tenancy agreements with housing associations include a ‘right to buy’ clause. This means that if the association wants to sell your home, they have to give you the chance to buy it first.

Can I buy a housing association house?

You can buy some types of homes offered by housing associations. Their market-rate homes will be available to buy, as are any properties they offer under a shared ownership scheme. You may also be able to buy your housing association home if you have a ‘right to buy’ clause in your tenancy.

Do you need a deposit for a housing association home?

If you want to buy a property from a housing association, you may need a deposit. However, many homes offered under social housing schemes do not require a deposit to buy. In the case of ‘right to buy’ schemes, tenants can buy their homes at a significant discount, and mortgage lenders will usually accept this discount as the deposit for your mortgage.

What’s the difference between council housing and a housing association?

Both councils and housing associations provide a form of social housing. The main difference is that council housing is provided directly by the local government, while housing associations are private, not-for-profit companies. Housing associations are responsible for the provision and maintenance of the housing stock, with residents receiving financial support to rent or buy their home.

What are the pros and cons of living in a housing association home?

The main pro of buying or renting a housing association home is that it will be significantly cheaper than similar-sized properties on the market. Another advantage is that housing associations build their properties to a very good standard. They may also maintain or periodically improve the properties they manage.

The main downside is that there is a lot of additional paperwork for buying, renting or selling a housing association property. You will have to apply, possibly wait on a waiting list, and negotiate with the housing association if you want to sell.

Still, housing association homes offer a path to homeownership or rental accommodation at much more affordable prices than regular market rates.

If you’re a first-time buyer and need more advice on how to go about it, our guides can help. We have dedicated articles for help-to-buy schemes, shared ownership staircasing and general guidance about the technical jargon for buying a house.

HomeViews provides verified resident reviews of the UK’s housing developments. We also now have a specific category to make sure that housing association tenants can have their say. We’re working with developers, operators, housing associations, landlords and the Government to recognise high performers and help to improve standards in the built environment.

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