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Housing associations

As part of our policy work, we’ve put a call out for experiences – does a criminal record have an impact on social housing?

Top tips

  • Councils have lists of the housing associations with properties in the area
  • Local councils usually have rights to decide who should be housed in some of the local housing association accommodation so you should apply to the local authority as well.
  • You can apply directly to as many housing associations as you want as long as they hold waiting lists of their own, or through the council
  • Spent convictions don’t have to be disclosed on housing application forms
  • Ask for a leaflet about the Housing Allocations Policy, to see how applications will be dealt with and what situations or groups of people get priority for housing
  • Get help to make a bid – if the housing association has a bidding system, the applicant must make bids to be considered for any vacant house or flat
  • The tenancy may start within a few days of accepting an offer, so it’s really important to get Housing Benefit sorted out when signing up for the tenancy

What are housing associations?

Housing associations offer similar types of housing as local councils. Like councils, they are non-profit-making landlords, and they usually let their properties to people in housing need. They can choose to specialise in some types of housing, for example for older people, younger people, or people with disabilities. People do not usually have to live in a particular area to apply to them.

Getting on the waiting list

In many areas, there is now a central system for applying to housing associations in the area. This is often called a Common Housing Register, and it is usually managed by the council. There may be only one application form to fill in for all the different housing providers, and in some areas, applications to all housing associations go through this central system.

Local councils also nominate people for housing by the housing associations with properties in the area. To be nominated by the council for a housing association letting, applicants usually need to be at the top of the list – either in urgent need, or with priority for some other reason.

Some housing associations also take applications directly. If you are applying directly, you can apply to as many housing associations as you want.

Councils give out information about the housing associations which have properties in the local area and how to apply for their housing, as well as who is likely to be nominated by the council for housing association homes. This information may be on the council website, as well as in a leaflet. There is also useful information on Shelter’s website.

It’s important to apply for accommodation that fits the size of your household. If you are a single person or are applying as part of a couple, you will not get enough housing benefit to pay the full rent if the house or flat has more than 1 bedroom, even if you need this sometimes for your children.

Information needed to make an application

Housing associations need similar information as application forms to councils. See a separate section on applying to councils for more information.

Disclosing a criminal record

Application forms ask the applicant to say if they have a criminal record, and if it is not a spent conviction, to supply more information. Spent convictions do not have to be disclosed. The sentence in the form will say something like:

If you or anyone who wants to be rehoused with you has any criminal convictions which are not spent as explained in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, you must tell us about them here. You must set out all of the details of the conviction in full.

There is more information about disclosing a criminal record in the section on applying to the council for housing.

If accommodation is provided and then it is discovered that false information was given in order to get somewhere to live, the housing association can ask for the person to be evicted (but this can only be done through the courts).

Housing allocation policies

For nominations from the local council, housing associations must follow the council’s Allocations Policy, though they may also have their own rules about which nominations they will accept.

For anyone applying directly to a housing association, the housing association will use their own rules, but they must do this in a fair and transparent way. Housing associations usually have their policy (“lettings” or “allocations” policy) on their website, and may give out leaflets with a summary of the policy.

Housing association refusals

Housing associations can refuse to rehouse some applicants, as long as this fits in with their published policy. They should consider each case individually, and not make rules about particular groups. It is common for housing associations to follow roughly the same principles as local councils, but some are much stricter than local councils.

Housing associations may decide not to house people where there have been problems such as:

  • rent still owed to this or another housing association
  • serious nuisance or annoyance to neighbours
  • a conviction for an offence committed in the house or flat or local area – such as selling drugs from the property, causing damage to the property, or burglary from a neighbour’s house
  • a conviction or a caution for an offence which makes the person seem unsuitable to be a tenant
  • court action taken within the last 2 years for problems to do with a tenancy
  • eviction from a house or flat with this or another housing association

Can you check what information the housing association holds about you?

An applicant accepted onto the waiting list is entitled to see their entry and to receive a copy of what is held about them. The right covers all information recorded about you, including information held on computers, in e-mails, and in printed or handwritten documents, as well as pictures and video or audio recordings. There may be a charge for this, up to a maximum of £10.

Choice Based Lettings schemes

Many housing associations join in with local councils in the local Choice Based Lettings schemes, which means that the first step is for applicants to bid for the house or flat they want to live in. These schemes work like this:


This is what you need to know about Choice Based Lettings schemes:

  • There is a weekly list of vacant properties advertised in housing offices, on the internet, in the local paper, or in advice centres
  • The advert says what size of family could apply, for example a 1 person household, or a family with 5 people, and whether there are any restrictions such as being over 40, or needing accommodation with adaptations for a disability
  • Anyone interested in living in that property makes a bid. This can be done in a number of ways: over the phone, over the internet, by post, by text, or at a housing office. There will be a deadline for bids to be received each week. It is usually possible to bid for more than one property each week, up to a limit (often 3).
  • People who are not able to bid for themselves (for example someone in prison) may be able to ask someone else to bid for them – this usually has to be arranged beforehand.

The housing officer then weighs up the different bids that have come in. They may have to take into account people who are homeless or who have priority because of a medical problem or an urgent need to move. If not, they will usually decide that the person who has been waiting the longest will be offered the property.

The last steps in the process are:

  • The housing officer will let the successful bidder know (but not usually the unsuccessful bidders, as there may be too many bids to respond to).
  • The successful bidder gets an offer and has to respond within a few days to say whether they want to move into the property or not.

Some housing associations use a points system to decide who is at the top of the list. In this case, the applicant does not bid but waits to get a letter or phone call telling them they have come to the top of the list. The decision about who will be offered the property will depend on a combination of the person’s need for housing and length of time on the list or on the waiting list.

There is more detail about how allocations policies and bidding systems work in the section on applying to the council.

Getting an offer of a property

The housing officer makes an offer of a house or flat to the applicant (usually over the phone, or in writing if the person can’t be contacted by phone). The property might have to be viewed soon after getting the offer (perhaps only 2 days). A housing officer may go with the applicant to see the property. The applicant needs to decide if they are going to take the property within a day or so. They will then need to go in to the housing office to sign for the tenancy. This process could take up to an hour, and might include getting benefit advice and help to fill in Housing Benefit forms.

With bidding systems, if the offer is refused, the applicant can go on to bid for any other properties they are interested in. With other systems – such as a points system – the application may be sent further down the list if the offer is refused.

Moving in

Once the offer of a property is accepted, the tenancy is likely to start very soon. This could be in less than a week’s time, depending on whether the sign-up has happened at the start of the week or later in the week. So it is very important to make a Housing Benefit claim straightaway as the rent will be due from the start.

Useful links

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

  • National Homeless Advice Service (NHAS) – NHAS provides free expert advice, training and support to housing professionals working in local councils, voluntary advice agencies, local Citizens Advice and public authorities in England.



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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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