Research finds no bias in allocation of social housing

Commission research finds no bias in allocation of social housing to immigrants

07 July 2009


Embargoed until 00:01hrs on 07 July 2009

The vast majority of people who live in social housing in Britain were born in the UK according to a research study published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission today. The study found that less than two per cent of all social housing residents are people who have moved to Britain in the last five years and that nine out of ten people who live in social housing were born in the UK.

The independent research, which was undertaken for the Commission by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), found that social housing policies are targeting those in most need including the homeless, the elderly and families with children.

It found no evidence to support the perception that new migrants are getting priority over UK born residents. Nor was there any evidence of abuse of the system, including 'queue jumping' or providing false information.

The research shows that within UK-born and Foreign-Born communities the proportion of people living in social housing is similar at around one in six people. It also reveals that many more recent migrants, those who have arrived in the past five years, have bought their own homes (17 per cent) than live in social housing (11 per cent).

Most new migrants to the UK over the last five years, particularly from the newer European Union member states such as Poland, have been ineligible to claim entitlement to social housing as they do not meet the criteria set by national legislation. Only new migrants who are a European Economic Area worker, have been given ‘settled’ or ‘refugee’ status by the Home Office, or have leave to remain in the UK, are eligible for social housing.

Despite the evidence, the public has a different perception of who gets priority for social housing.   Focus group discussions held as part of the project exposed widely-held fears that the allocation process puts white British families at a disadvantage and that migrants are ‘cheating the system’. This myth is often at the core of discriminatory behaviour and contributes to tension and violence in many areas.

The report identifies a number of factors which could be contributing to these perceptions, including:

  • The belief that privately owned flats in blocks which were previously social housing are still “owned by the council”;
  • New developments often include social housing as well as privately owned accommodation with little visual difference between the two;
  • The Borders Agency is using empty social housing to accommodate asylum seekers temporarily, which may be fuelling the idea that they are ‘queue jumping’
  • Some ex-local authority, mixed-tenure housing association and key-worker homes have high numbers of residents from particular ethnic groups – for example hospital and care home workers;
  • Clusters of people of the same background living in a neighbourhood may serve to entrench beliefs about unfair advantages.

The reduction in the social housing stock as existing tenants exercise their right to buy; fewer new builds over the last few decade and the increase in the number of households in the UK, caused by greater life-expectancy, marital breakdown and to a lesser extent, immigration have all led to increased demand for social housing.

The report recommends that public concerns about the effects of migration on housing should be addressed by policy makers at a local level.  It also suggests that more needs to be done to increase people’s understanding of entitlement to social housing, as the lack of transparency in the process may perpetuate the belief that the system itself is unfair.

Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Commission, said:  “We have to recognise that people’s perceptions are powerful, so it’s vital that social housing providers and policy makers work to foster understanding about what is really happening on the ground. Much of the public concern about the impact of migration on social housing has, at its heart, the failure of social housing supply to meet the demands of the population. The poorer the area, the longer the waiting lists, therefore the greater the tension. Government and social housing providers need to work with the communities they serve to address these issues.”


For more information please contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission media office on 020 3117 0255 or out of hours on 07767 272 818.

Notes to editors

  • A copy of the report Social housing allocation and immigrant communities can be downloaded here.
  • These findings are based on work by the Institute for Public Policy Research which included social housing policies in England, an analysis of Labour Force Survey and other data, a survey of the social housing allocation policies of 50 selected local authority and interview with a small number of housing officials, and re-analysis of four focus groups.
  • The present criteria for allocating social housing are outlined in the Housing Act 1996 as amended by the Housing Act 2002 and the Housing Act 2004. This legislation says that a number of groups of people should be given priority including the homeless and priority needs groups, such as families with children and the elderly. Immigration status affects entitlement to social housing. Broadly, to be eligible, migrants need settled status, or be a European Economic Area worker, or have refugee status or leave to remain in the UK. Most new migrants have no entitlement to social housing.
  • Housing tenure by country of birth, Labour Force Survey, 2007. Figures referred to in the press release are in bold.  

Housing type by country of birth

Place of birth by housing type

UK born

Foreign born

Foreign born & arrived in the UK in the past five years

Owner occupier




Social tenant




Private tenant








 Country of birth by housing type

Place of birth by housing type

UK born

Foreign born

Foreign born &  arrived in the UK in the past five years

Owner occupier




Social tenant




Private tenant








  •  The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.