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The social rented sector

Foundations of landlord and tenant law – part 13

This series is mainly about the private rented sector, as that is the focus of this blog (and my services). However I think we should take a quick look at the social sector if only to see how this differs from the private rented sector (PRS).

AlmshouseA quick history

The social rented sector has its roots in those almshouses and charitable housing trusts which have been set up by monied persons from the Middle Ages onwards, together with various kinds of philanthropic commercial housing organisations and housing co-operatives.

You know the sort of thing, housing provided for certain classes of people, such as the destitute of Xborough, retired employees of RedWidgets Ltd, or reformed harlots.

At the start of the last century this was about all there was. Then between about 1920 and 1980 Local Authorities were encouraged to provide housing for low income residents. This eventually grew to be an important part of their service and a significant sector of rented housing overall.

Sadly since then they have been encouraged to divest themselves of their housing stock, and transfer this function to local housing associations.

So how does it all work and what sort of tenancies do they have?

Well in the social sector, the tenancy type will depend mainly on whether your landlord is a Local Authority or not, and if not, when the tenancy started.

FlatsLocal Authority housing

Initially there was not much regulation of Local Authorities as they were considered (naively perhaps) to be ‘model landlords’ and were rather left to run things as they wished.

However this all changed in 1985 when the Housing Act 1985 was passed, and this is the act which now regulates local authority housing, as amended in various ways subsequently.

Under this act, tenancies let by a local authority will in most cases be a ‘secure’ tenancy. It is also possible for these types of tenancies to exist with landlords who are housing actions trusts and some housing co-operatives and types of urban corporation. But they are mostly local authorities.

These tenancies are generally let at a lower rent than tenancies in the PRS and have long term security of tenure. There are two exceptions to this:

  • Introductory tenancies – these are a probationary period where a tenant has to prove himself, during which he has limited security of tenure. They generally last for a year after which the tenant will have a normal secure tenancy.
  • Demoted tenancies – this is where a tenants rights are reduced by the landlord getting a demotion order from the court. During the time the tenancy is demoted the tenant will have no security of tenure. However if they behave themselves the tenancy will go back to being secure again.

As with private sector housing, the Thatcher government had a big influence on local authority housing. First they introduced the right to buy, during which probably the best of the local authority housing stock was sold off at an undervalue. As local authorities were not able to use the sale money to build new housing, this had the effect of massively reducing the amount of social housing available to needy tenants. We still feel the effect of this today.

FlatsThe other factor was the encouragement given to local authorities to sell off their housing stock (such as remained) to separate housing associations. This is why many local authorities no longer have any housing of their own any more.

Other social housing

This generally means housing owned by ‘registered social landlords’. The phrase Registered Social Landlords used to mean landlords regulated by the Housing Corporation. Then the changes started.

In 2008 the Housing Corporation was replaced under the Housing and Regeneration Act, with the Tenant Services Authority. Then in 2010 the Tenant Services Authority extended their remit to all social housing providers including (from what I can make out) local authorities.

However the coalition government is NOW going to do away with the Tenant Services Authority and its regulatory functions will apparently be taken over by a committee in the Homes and Communities Agency.

Got that? No, I’m not sure I understand it all either. But I am pretty sure that during the changeover period vast sums will have been expended in an orgy of rebranding exercises, new headed stationary, and new websites. Why can’t they just leave things as they are?

Lets leave the regulatory side and take a look at tenancy types.

Tenancy types

Non local authority social housing is a mix of the Housing Associations, trusts, co-operatives and companies.

Most of the tenancies are let out on assured tenancies under the Housing Act 1988, although older tenancies will be protected tenancies under the Rent Act 1977. Before 25 January 1989 Housing Associations could also grant secure tenancies under the 1985 Housing Act so some of these will still remain. But mostly they will be assured tenancies.

Social landlords granting tenancies under the Housing Act 1988 cannot give introductory tenancies but they can instead give assured shorthold tenancies and then convert these to assured by serving a notice on the tenant to that effect. However they can, if the tenant proves unsatisfactory, apply to the Court for an assured tenancy to be demoted for a period of time, as local authorities can.

Differences between the private and the social rented sectors

  • Social housing is owned by either a registered charity or an organisation which is set up to provide housing as a social service, or a local authority
  • It will usually be cheaper than housing in the private sector, the cheapest tending to be local authority housing
  • Generally tenants will have long term security of tenure, unless the tenancy is an introductory or a demoted tenancy.
  • Social housing providers will generally have waiting lists which people desiring accommodation with them can apply to join. However they will usually have rather a long wait!

I think thats about as deep as I want to delve in the murky depths of social housing law. Next time I will be looking at some additional regulations.

Almshouse picture  by Maxwell Hamilton

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Important note. If you are reading an old post, remember that the law may have changed since it was written.




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About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law. She runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 12th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google



The Landlord Law Blog from Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.


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