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Half a million more people on social housing waiting lists

Words: Huw Morris

The real social housing waiting list in England is 500,000 households more than official figures suggest, according to the National Housing Federation (NHF).

Its research says the true number of people needing social housing in England has now hit 3.8 million. This equates to 1.6 million households – 500,000 more than the 1.16 million households recorded on official waiting lists.

Because of the severe shortage of social homes, some of these people have been on a council waiting list for almost two decades and may never be housed, the NHF warns. The number of people in need of social housing is set to rise rapidly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with low-income earners twice as likely to lose their jobs.

The NHF also warns those currently in need are likely to be forced further into poverty and debt, with many more becoming homeless as the eviction ban ends. Last year only 6,338 new social-rented homes were built, a fall of 84 per cent since 2010, while new lettings from existing properties also fell by 17 per cent in the same period.

The most expensive areas of the country saw the smallest proportion of new lettings, despite having the highest number of people in need and on waiting lists. In the past two years, the number of people in need of social housing has increased by 5 per cent and 165,000 people. The largest number of people on the real “social housing waiting list” are in private rented homes at 1.5 million, with many having to choose between living in poverty and getting into debt to keep a roof over their heads.

The research also shows there are now 3.4 million living in overcrowded homes. The study says council housing waiting lists had previously been the only way of measuring how many people needed social housing. But these only record people who apply and meet strict criteria, prioritised the most vulnerable and are not intended to be an accurate reflection of everyone needing an affordable and secure home. Instead, the research analysed the latest Understanding Society dataset, the UK Household Longitudinal Study which tracks the lives of 40,000 households, alongside housing market data, completed by Glen Bramley, professor of urban studies at Heriot Watt University.

The study is available here.

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