The real ‘social housing waiting list’ is 500,000 more than official figures

15 September 2020

The real ‘social housing waiting list’ in England is 500,000 households bigger than official figures suggest, reveals our new data today.

The findings are published in our annual People in Housing Need report, the most comprehensive report to date on the state of the nation’s housing crisis. It is the only research to analyse the true number of people in need of social housing in England, which has now hit 3.8m. This equates to 1.6m households – 500,000 more than the 1.16m households recorded on official waiting lists.[i]

Due to the severe shortage of social homes, some of these people have been on their council waiting list for almost two decades and may never be housed.[ii]

Already at critical levels, the National Housing Federation is warning that the number of people in need of social housing is set to rise rapidly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic - with low-income earners roughly twice as likely to lose their jobs.[iii] Worse still, those currently in need are likely to be forced further into poverty and debt and as the eviction ban ends, many more will become homeless.

Social rented homes are typically 50% of market rent. They are the most affordable and secure homes for people on low incomes.

Last year only 6,338 new social rented homes were built, a fall of 84% since 2010. New lettings from existing properties also fell by 17% in the same time period and 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. [iv]

In the last two years the number of people in need of social housing has increased by 5% and 165,000 people, whilst the number of households has largely remained the same. This suggests that new and growing families are now suffering the worse effects of the housing crisis. The report shows that there are now 3.4m people living in overcrowded homes.

Now in its second year of publication, People in Housing Need reveals the true number of people hit by housing problems, what issues they are facing; such as unaffordability, overcrowding or poor conditions, and what housing would be most appropriate to meet their needs, based on income and circumstances.

Previously, council housing waiting lists were the only way of measuring how many people needed social housing. But these lists, which only record people who apply and meet strict criteria, are a way of prioritising the most vulnerable. They are not intended to be an accurate reflection of everyone in need of an affordable and secure home. Today’s report gives a significantly clearer and more accurate picture of housing need in this country.

The largest number of people on the real ‘social housing waiting list’ are in private rented homes (1.5m), with many having to choose between living in poverty and getting into debt in order to keep a roof over their heads. Others are living in overcrowded, poor quality or unsuitable homes, stuck with friends, family or ex partners because they cannot afford a home of their own, or are homeless. Official figures show that the number of homeless children living in temporary accommodation has risen by 88% since its low point in 2011 to 129,380.[v]

A coalition of charities, businesses, banks, and think tanks has launched a campaign calling on the government to put building social homes at the heart of its plans for from recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

The Homes at the Heart campaign is a partnership between Chartered Institute of Housing, Crisis, National Federation of ALMOs, Association of Retained Council Housing and National Housing Federation; along with over 60 supporters from across different sectors – from Carers UK to NatWest.

Last month the HCLG committee inquiry into building more social housing, endorsed the National Housing Federation and Crisis’ recommendation that the government invest £10bn a year in social housing. This would be enough to build 90,000 new social rented homes every year. The report added that this should be a top priority to rebuild the country from the impact of Covid-19.

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “Today’s report shows that the sharp end of the housing crisis is getting sharper, and at a rapid rate. Under-investment in social housing has left us with virtually no affordable homes available for people on the lowest incomes.

“The real tragedy is that these are same people impacted the most by the coronavirus crisis, which had led to huge job losses for low income workers. When the government’s Job Retention Scheme and ban on evictions end, we are likely to see people in need of social housing skyrocket.

“Everyone deserves a safe, secure and affordable home and social housing provides that vital safety net for low income people including thousands of key workers who have been keeping our country going at this time. We are calling on the government to commit to a once-in-a-generation investment in social housing and put homes at the heart of its plans for economic and social recovery.”

For more information on the Homes at the Heart Campaign visit:


For further information please contact:

 Stella Turi, PR Officer at the National Housing Federation or 07745706476 (out of hours 07786 916 877)  

Notes for Editors:

The National Housing Federation is the voice of affordable housing in England. We believe that everyone should have the home they need at a price they can afford. That’s why we represent the work of housing associations and campaign for better housing.

Our members provide over two and a half million homes for six million people. And each year they invest in a diverse range of neighbourhood projects that help create strong, vibrant communities.

For more information visit:





Who to speak to

Press office