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Social housing is housing to rent at below the market rate or to buy through low-cost home ownership schemes such as shared ownership.

Four million households live in rented social housing in England, just under a fifth (17%) of all households. In 2020/21, 10% (2.4 million) of all households rented from housing associations, and 7% (1.6 million) from local authorities.

Social housing green paper

The Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 exposed a range of issues with social housing and provided an impetus for change. In August 2018, following extensive engagement and consultation with social housing residents across the country, the Government published a social housing green paper – A new deal for social housing – which aimed to “rebalance the relationship between residents and landlords”.

Alongside the green paper, the Government published a Call for evidence: Review of social housing regulation which sought views on how well the regulatory regime was operating. The consultation ran from 14 August to 6 November 2018 and received over 1,000 responses.

Social housing white paper

After a gap of two years, on 17 November 2020 the Government published a social housing white paper –The Charter for Social Housing Residents.

The Charter sets out measures designed to deliver on the Government’s commitment to the Grenfell community that “never again would the voices of residents go unheard” and on its 2019 manifesto pledge, to empower residents, provide greater redress, better regulation and improve the quality of social housing.

The white paper is intended to deliver “transformational change” for social housing residents. It sets out measures to:

  • Ensure social housing is safe.
  • Make it easier to know how social landlords are performing, to increase transparency and accountability.
  • Ensure swift and effective complaint resolution.
  • Strengthen the consumer standards social landlords must meet and create a strong, proactive regime to enforce them.
  • Empower residents to support them in engaging with and holding their landlords to account.
  • Ensure good quality, decent homes and neighbourhoods.
  • Support tenants to buy a home of their own.

The roles of the Regulator of Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman are being strengthened to help deliver these measures.

The social housing white paper applies to social housing landlords and residents in England. Different policies apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


Overall, the white paper has been well received by tenants, social landlords and the housing sector. Measures intended to raise standards, increase transparency and accountability, improve the complaints and redress process, and engage and empower residents have been widely welcomed.

Nevertheless, concerns have been expressed about some elements, including:

  • the slow pace of social housing reform;
  • failure to address issues around the supply of homes for social rent;
  • lack of clarity about who and what social housing is for;
  • failure to fully address the issue of stigma, exacerbated by the Government’s strong focus on home ownership;
  • lack of a national platform or representative body to represent tenants’ interests; and
  • potential challenges for social landlords in resourcing all the new requirements.

The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Select Committee is conducting an inquiry into the regulation of social housing in England.

What next?

There is no timetable attached to delivering the measures set out in the social housing white paper.

The paper provides a framework for reform, but the detail of many of the proposals requires further development and engagement with the sector. The Government established an Expert Challenge Panel, involving experts from across the housing sector, to advise on how the white paper proposals can be delivered. It is also setting up a Social Housing Quality Resident Panel, to enable social housing residents to share their views on proposals to improve the quality of social housing.

Some reforms require primary legislation before they can be implemented. The Social Housing Regulation Bill (HL Bill 21 of 2022-23) had its first reading in the House of Lords on 8 June 2022. The Bill is intended to improve the regulation of social housing, strengthen social tenants’ rights and ensure better quality, safer homes. Second reading of the Bill is scheduled for 27 June 2022. The House of Commons Library will publish a briefing on the Bill in time for second reading in the House of Commons.

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