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Last edited 02 Jan 2023
Affordable housing is a generic term used to describe housing that is more 'affordable' to lower or middle income households. In the UK government's 'Definitions of general housing terms' publication, it is defined as follows:
'Affordable housing is social rented, affordable rented and intermediate housing, provided to eligible households whose needs are not met by the market. Eligibility is determined with regard to local incomes and local house prices.
Affordable housing should include provisions to remain at an affordable price for future eligible households or for the subsidy to be recycled for alternative affordable housing provision.'
The combination of changing demography and lifestyles in the UK, exacerbated by population growth and lack of construction means there is a severe housing shortfall. An Institute for Public Policy Research report in 2011 suggested this shortfall will reach 750,000 homes by 2025 (ref. IPPR The good, the bad and the ugly: Housing demand 2025).
- Affordable Rent – rented homes made available to tenants at up to a maximum of 80% of market rent and allocated in the same way as social housing.
- Affordable Home Ownership – a range of home ownership products that enable people to join or move up the housing ladder, through the Help to Buy programme (Help to Buy equity loan, Help to Buy shared ownership and Armed Forces Home Ownership Scheme).
- Empty Homes – intended to bring the 3% of total housing stock which remains empty back into use.
- Mortgage Rescue Scheme – to support vulnerable owner-occupiers at risk of repossession.
- Affordable Homes Guarantees Programme – guaranteeing debt to help housing providers expand the provision of purpose-built private rented and affordable housing.
- Rent to buy – low-cost loans for housing providers.
In addition, local authorities have set affordable housing targets based on local circumstances, such as demand and supply, the costs of housing and wages. They can then use instruments such as Section 106 agreements to help deliver affordable housing.
Section 106 agreements (sometimes called planning obligations or planning gain) are obligations attached to land that is the subject of a planning permission. Planning obligations are used to mitigate or compensate for the negative impacts of a development or to prescribe the nature of a development.
Section 106 agreements can be used (amongst other things) to secure affordable housing, to specify the type and timing of this housing and to secure financial contributions to provide infrastructure or affordable housing.
- Social rented housing (owned by local authorities and private registered providers or owned by other persons and provided under equivalent rental arrangements).
- Affordable rented housing (let by local authorities or private registered providers of social housing to households who are eligible for social rented housing. Affordable rent is subject to rent controls that require a rent of no more than 80% of the local market rent).
- Intermediate housing (homes for sale and rent provided at a cost above social rent, but below market levels. These can include shared equity, other low cost homes for sale and intermediate rent, but not affordable rented housing).
However, the NPPF states that “…the costs of any requirements likely to be applied to development, such as requirements for affordable housing, standards, infrastructure contributions or other requirements should, when taking account of the normal cost of development and mitigation, provide competitive returns to a willing land owner and willing developer to enable the development to be deliverable.”
In addition, the Growth and Infrastructure Act, introduced in 2013 to reduce the red tape that the government considers hampers growth, allowed developers to renegotiate economically unviable section 106 agreements on stalled housing developments. This has had a particular impact on affordable housing provision.
A report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in 2013 (The Housing Crisis, Get the data: The crisis in the UK's affordable housing supply system) found that the total number of affordable homes built in England actually fell 4.1% in 2011/2012 and the Bureau's assessment of 82 of the biggest housing developments in 10 major cities found just 40% complied with local affordable housing targets.
On 4 January 2016, as part of its plans to deliver 200,000 affordable starter homes over the next five years, the then Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the government would directly commission thousands of new affordable homes on publicly-owned land. See Government to commission affordable homes on publicly owned land for more information.
In November 2014, Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced plans to make clear that Section 106 agreements should generally not be sought from the smallest housebuilders on sites of 10 homes or fewer, including self-build, extensions and annexes. In very rural areas, sites of five homes or fewer should not face the charge. See Section 106 exemption for more information.
However, in a landmark case at the High Court in July 2015, Justice Holgate quashed government policy on affordable housing exemption thresholds, as a result of the which, planning guidance on planning obligations was amended to remove paragraphs 012-023. In addition, the vacant building credit policy was quashed.
West Berkshire Council and Reading Borough Council challenged the policies arguing that the consultation process had been unlawful. Justice Holgate accepted that the government had failed to take into account "obviously material" considerations.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said they would seek permission to appeal against the judge's decision, and in May 2016, the Court of Appeal restored the policy. Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis said: "Today's judgment by the Court of Appeal restores common sense to the system, and ensures that those builders developing smaller sites – including self-builders - don't face costs that could stop them from building any homes at all." ref. gov.uk 11 May 2016.
 Redefining affordable housing
In his speech to the Conservative party conference in October 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron said:
“For years, politicians have been talking about building what they call “affordable homes” – but the phrase was deceptive. It basically meant homes that were only available to rent. What people want are homes they can actually own. …Those old rules which said to developers: you can build on this site, but only if you build affordable homes for rent…we're replacing them with new rules…you can build here, and those affordable homes can be available to buy.”
This is thought to be a key part of the government's strategy to build 200,000 starter homes over this parliament, homes sold at 20% less than the market value to “…hard working people under the age of 40.” Redefining affordable homes to include starter homes will give greater flexibility to local authorities and developers. There will be a cap on the cost of these homes, of £450,000 in London and £250,000 elsewhere.
The revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in 2021, suggests that affordable housing is housing for sale or rent, for those whose needs are not met by the market (including housing that provides a subsidised route to home ownership and/or is for essential local workers); and which complies with one or more of the following definitions:
- Affordable housing for rent.
- Starter homes.
- Discounted market sales housing.
- Other affordable routes to home ownership.
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