History of Social Housing

History of Social Housing

Once upon a time you either owned your house, or you rented, generally from a private landlord. Prior to the industrial revolution, land ownership was limited to the very wealthy and housing needs were met by the great estates in the form of tied accommodation for estate labourers and domestic servants or on tied farms. Even the middle classes rented their homes in the main. Common land existed for the use of everyone, but with a series of Enclosures Acts, this land was partitioned off and gradually rural poverty began to grow and urbanisation of our economy during the industrial revolution led to mass migration to cities. Work houses sprang up to accommodate the destitute in both rural and urban areas.

The 1890 Housing for the Working Classes Act heralded the development of the first council houses. It was the most important of a number of legislative initiatives aimed at addressing the worst areas of housing unfit for human habitation and regulating private lodgings.

Philanthropic associations formed and developed lodging houses for the low-paid, organisations such as Peabody and Guinness, still in operation today. These were the forerunners of modern day housing associations.

The aftermath of World War I was a turning point for the legislative, funding and social acceptance of social housing. During the war there was a hiatus in housing development and following the war there was a lack of funds, labour and materials for any significant development programme. However a key piece of legislation, the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919 (the Addison Act) created the foundation legislation for the development of what we now know of as council housing. Subsidies for the first time were introduced to help build new housing as well as issuance of housing bonds to raise money for development.

The concept of ‘general needs housing’ came into use, aimed at meeting the needs of the working poor in quality developments with indoor toilets and gardens. But as funding became more restricted in the 20’s and 30’s the houses were built to higher densities with lower standards and were increasingly being identified with the very poor. By the1930’s the focus of council housing was centred on slum clearance and urban renewal. Most new council housing was built on new estates on the city fringes. Allocations policies began to emerge in this period and need became a factor above ability to pay.

During World War II all house building again came to a standstill. Significant bomb damage led to mass loss of housing and displacement of people from cities to the countryside. A severe housing crisis and urgent need for the development of around 750,000 new homes resulted in a renewed programme of slum clearance and new-town development.

Once again housing was forced to new settlements on the peripheries of towns and cities. Modern high rise blocks and planned estates became prevalent and attracted higher subsidies than lower density houses. The modern council estates were very positively received at the time with tenants thrilled to have modern amenities, but rapidly the use of poor quality building materials and lack of sound town planning and social principles took its toll and the new estates became undesirable places to live.

Right–to-Buy had almost always been permitted, but the 1980 Housing Act was the first to enshrine it in legislation and to offer significant discounts and mortgage incentives. Within ten years about 1 million council houses were sold under right to buy. Councils were not permitted to use receipts to build new houses.

In 1979 42% of the British public were living in council housing, which was viewed as an entirely acceptable tenure given the displacement during the war. That figure is now only 8%. The Right-to Buy movement shepherded in a rapid shift in public opinion of social housing; housing that had been a norm was suddenly viewed as a symptom of a welfare state catering to scroungers, single mums and immigrants.

By the 1980’s Council stock was aging and in need of costly maintenance and regeneration. The Housing and Planning Act 1986 encouraged councils to give up the management and maintenance of housing stock and sell off to housing associations in Local Stock Value Transfers (LSVTs). Councils were not allowed to use the receipts of these sales to build new houses.

Social Housing in the 21st century
The age of austerity defines housing policy thus far in the 21st century. The 2008 financial crisis put an end to private sector development and easy access to finance disappeared overnight. Previously ‘affordable housing’ was delivered primarily through conditions on planning called Section 106. Usually in the region of 30% of a development is meant to be ‘affordable housing’ but following the financial crash and as part of the Localism Act 2011, Developers were able to renegotiate these conditions on viability grounds.

The Government had less money to offer in the form of subsidies for development and The Localism Act in 2011 introduced ‘affordable rents’ as a new tenure designed to fill a gap between ‘social rents’ for poorer people, and working people that had more disposable income and can afford to pay more, but were still unable to affordable market rents. Affordable rents are rents that are 80% of open market rents (including service charges).

Over time social rents have given way to ‘affordable’ rents, and there is no longer development grant available for social rented tenures. Housing Benefit has had to fill the gap in rental costs for families that cannot afford ‘affordable rent’ tenure.

By 2015 there was no longer grant for affordable rent tenures either, such was the ambition of the government towards home ownership. Housing associations wishing to develop homes for rented tenures must fund the development from their own resources entirely. This means more cross-subsidy with open market and shared ownership development. In practice far fewer rented homes are being developed.

Welfare reform and the Housing and Planning Act of 2015 have resulted in a number of initiatives that have reduced the provision of, and access to affordable housing. These include: pay to stay, where people on above average salaries will have to pay higher rents to stay in their homes, the ending of secured tenancies, the introduction of the Voluntary Right to Buy for people renting from Housing Associations (this was previously restricted to people in council houses).

Contact us:

If you would like more information on how to get affordable homes for local people in your  Berkshire Village, contact Arlene Kersley, CCB Rural Housing Enabler for Berkshire on 0118 961 2000 or by email at arlene.kersley@ccberks.org.uk


BBC – A History of Social Housing, April 14 2015; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14380936

The History of Council Housing, 2008 University of the West of England, Bristol http://fet.uwe.ac.uk/conweb/house_ages/council_housing/print.htm

Public Housing in the United Kingdom, Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_housing_in_the_United_Kingdom

Housing Associations, Professor David Mullins, Third Sector Research Centre, Working Paper 16, August 2010, Birmingham University http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tsrc/documents/tsrc/working-papers/working-paper-16.pdf


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