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Housing associations

Housing associations offer affordable accommodation. Some housing associations specialise in accommodation for particular groups of people, such as older people, disabled people or young people. 

What is a housing association?

Housing associations are not-for-profit organisations that rent houses and flats in city centres, housing estates and the country. They aim to provide good, low cost accommodation for people who really need it. Housing associations are run by committees of volunteers elected by the tenants. The committee employs professional staff to manage the properties.

There are lots of different kinds of housing association offering different kinds of accommodation to different kinds of people. Most of them, however, are 'registered social landlords' (RSLs), which means they register with the Scottish Housing Regulator.

Advantages of renting from a housing association?

Affordable rent

Housing association rents are generally cheaper than rents with a private landlord, although can be a little higher than council rents. Rent is usually paid weekly, in advance, and the good news is, you're unlikely to be asked to pay a deposit upfront.

Secure tenancy rights

If you rent from a housing association you will have a Scottish secure tenancy, or in certain circumstances a short Scottish secure tenancy. A Scottish secure tenancy offers you strong occupancy rights, as well as rights to repair and to pass your tenancy on to other members of your household. Short Scottish secure tenants do not have such strong rights, and can be evicted more easily.

Find out your rights under these tenancy agreements.

Control over your accommodation

Housing association tenants have more say in the management of their homes than council or private tenants. Tenants elect the management committee responsible for the running of a housing association and are usually eligible to become members themselves.

Advice and support

Most housing associations have specialist staff who offer a variety of advice and support services to tenants. These services can include:

  • advice and help for claiming benefits
  • help to settle into your new tenancy
  • ongoing support to help you manage your day-to-day affairs.

Who can apply?

Anyone over the age of 16 can apply for a home through a housing association. Some housing associations specialise in accommodation for particular groups of people, such as:

  • young people
  • elderly people
  • disabled people
  • single people.

Before you apply to a housing association, check that it offers the kind of accommodation you need.

How do I apply?

You will need to fill in an application form, which you can get either through the council or directly from the housing association. You should be given a leaflet with the form explaining:

  • how to fill the form in
  • how the application process works
  • the housing association's allocation policy (that is, how they decide who should get a house first).

Your name will then be added to the housing waiting list. Waiting lists can be very long, but you will stand a better chance of getting a place soon if:

  • you are homeless
  • your current home is too small or unfit to live in
  • you have a serious medical condition
  • you need to be near your family.

Some areas have a common housing register, which means you only need to put your name down once to apply for council housing and for a place with a housing association. Ask the council's housing department if there is a common housing register for your area.

Now read the sections on applying for housing and allocation policies, which explain how the application process works and how councils and housing associations decide who will have priority on their waiting lists.

How do I find a housing association?

Your council's housing department will have a list of housing associations in the area, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) also has an online housing association finder.

What if I want to move?

If you want to move, you can apply for a transfer from one housing association property to another. Find out more in the section on transfers and mutual exchanges.

Can I buy a housing association house?

Some housing associations offer affordable homes for people to buy. These are usually only available for people on low incomes who might otherwise find it hard to own their own home, including:

  • elderly people
  • disabled people
  • single people
  • families.

Some housing associations offer shared ownership schemes, which allow buyers to own a percentage of their home and pay rent for the bit they don't own.

Some housing association tenants may be entitled to buy their homes through the right to buy scheme.

What about private sector housing associations?

Some housing associations are run as businesses, and are not registered with the Scottish  Housing Regulator or the SFHA. If you rent your home from a commercial housing association, you will have the same kind of tenancy rights as a private tenant and will be charged a market rent similar to the rent charged by other private landlords in your area. To get a tenancy with a commercial housing association, you will need to apply directly to the housing association.

The important points

  • You can find a housing association either through your council or the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.
  • Some of the advantages of renting from a housing association include a cheaper rent (usually) than private landlords, stronger tenancy rights than renting privately if you have a Scottish secure tenancy and you'll have a say in the management of your accommodation.
  • When you apply to the housing association, make sure you've read their allocation policy to understand how they prioritise their waiting list.
  • Ask the council if there is a common housing register so you can apply for council and housing co-operative housing at the same time.

Speak to a Shelter Scotland adviser

Call Shelter Scotland's free housing advice helpline

0808 800 4444*
9am-5pm, Monday to Friday

Email an adviser

You can also email a housing adviser. We aim to respond within three working days.

*Our advice line is free to call from landlines and all six of the main UK mobile networks, Virgin, Orange, 3, T-mobile, Vodafone and O2, but charges may apply from any other network

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