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Housing associations and local authorities - the legal differences in relation to housing of new migrants

This page is for housing advisers. If you are a new arrival please click here for information more relevant to you.

Local authorities are public authorities: they are required to produce a race equality scheme by law. In England, local authorities do not necessarily manage their housing themselves - many have separate companies (called arms length management organisations, or ALMOs) which do so. However, their practices should be the same as if they were the local authority itself.

Housing associations are independent organisations, regulated and often funded by the government, providing housing for people in need and are expected to have equality schemes in place.

Local authorities can only place certain people on their allocation schemes or waiting lists for housing: this is set out in legislation. They have to run services to provide emergency and temporary housing for homeless people and to give them some priority in housing, but eligibility for these services is also restricted - see the page on who is eligible for a housing allocation or homelessness assistance.

Both local authorities and housing associations are governed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Code of Practice on Services, Public Functions and Associations (pdf). Both should have a proper scheme, available to the public, for deciding who gets any vacant homes.

Housing associations are required to co-operate with local authorities and most have nomination or referral agreements with them. This allows the local authority to send recommendations to the association to fill a certain percentage of their vacant housing each year. Some associations allow local councils to fill all the vacancies they may have. The people nominated or referred must come from the council allocations scheme and be eligible for housing.

Some associations run services for councils on contract. These services may include allocations schemes, homelessness services, or housing management. When they run these contracts, they have to operate within the law as it applies to councils, which includes testing applicants for eligibility.

When housing associations are deciding for themselves who is to get their housing (not accepting a referral from a local authority or carrying out a contract for them), they are independent bodies who must make their decision within the law and according to their own policies. These policies should not discriminate, directly or indirectly against any applicants, and if you believe they do you can get further help from the page on challenging discrimination. In England housing associations must, however, make the same 'right to rent' checks as private landlords when they decide for themselves that someone is to be offered a tenancy. All associations also want to make sure they can collect rent from prospective tenants, and so should check that the applicant has enough income (through wages or benefits) to pay the rent.

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Background Topics

How can we improve housing for new migrants in the UK?

Chartered Institute of Housing