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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 2021/22, 10% (2.5 million) of all households rented from housing associations, and 6% (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”.

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 set 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 was intended to deliver “transformational change” for social housing residents. It set 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 white paper reforms apply to social housing landlords and residents in England. Different policies apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


Overall, the white paper was 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 were widely welcomed.

Nevertheless, concerns were 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) Committee’s report on The Regulation of Social Housing, published on 20 July 2022, called on the social housing sector to prioritise the quality of social housing and made 24 recommendations for change. The Committee awaits the Government’s response.

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 has also established a Social Housing Quality Resident Panel, to enable social housing residents to share their views on proposals to improve the quality of social housing.

The Social Housing Regulation Bill [HL] 2022-23, which is currently passing through Parliament, provides the legal basis for many of the white paper reforms.

The core objectives of the Bill are to:

  • Facilitate a new, proactive consumer regulation regime;
  • Refine the existing economic regulatory regime; and
  • Strengthen the Regulator’s powers to enforce the consumer and economic regimes.

The Bill also contains provisions to empower the Housing Ombudsman to issue a code of practice on complaint handling and monitor compliance with the code; and to formalise and strengthen the relationship between the Regulator and the Housing Ombudsman.

The Commons Library Bill Briefing provides an overview of the Bill’s provisions and its parliamentary stages.

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