The Farooq family*

Last year, the Farooq family* (*not their real name) sadly lost their father. The family are tenants are in a housing association property and expected that the tenancy would pass to their mother.

Instead, they received a letter without right of appeal from the housing association saying their mother could only have tenancy on a new property.

This is what Rashad* said in March:

My mother is particularly affected. She is constantly in tears and has fainted twice since receiving the letter. We fear losing her because her health has deteriorated to such an extent after this news.

We have lived in the property over 25 years and we’re proud to be part of the community here, especially on this estate. We have wonderful friendships here and don’t understand why we would have to move.

The housing association upheld the decision, telling the family that the mother did not have the right to inherit the tenancy because she was not the father’s first wife. This was despite their marriage of over 40 years, including the entire duration of the family living in the property.

Thankfully this decision has now been overturned.

Housing associations have been discussed on this blog before (see here) where a possible critique concerning their lack of transparency was mentioned in passing.

The decisions made by housing associations have potentially life-changing consequences – as made evident by the experiences of the Farooq family* – but they can operate according to their own rules, This gives at least some validity to the accusation that they act as a ‘law unto themselves’.


Anita* (*not her real name) has three children. Her oldest son was stabbed on Christmas Day, 2017. The attackers were known to the family and intended the stabbing to prove fatal. On the advice of police, her housing association agreed to move her out the area. Over a year later she is still waiting to be moved.

“This last year has been extremely difficult. We feel scared and unsafe in our own home. My youngest son has even tried to sleep with a knife under his pillow. It is hard to tell him not to be scared when I am so fearful myself. 

I have been struggling with my mental health, and struggling to sleep properly. Often I can’t get through to the housing association and have to ask the MP’s office to phone so that I get a response. I don’t feel listened to, and all the time we remain here I am scared. Life feels like it is on hold.” 

Anita* is housed by a housing association.

Housing associations (HAs) are not-for-profit businesses that provide social housing. 

As seen below, they now house approximately 8% of the general population, and about half of social renters (IFS, ‘Long-term trends in British Taxation and Spending‘ p8) .

The growth of HAs was partly driven by two changes.

Firstly, while Local Authorities suffered sharp cuts in government spending on housing ,and strict limits on their ability to borrow, from 1989, HAs were allowed to borrow outside of the public borrowing and accounting regime.

Secondly, the Large Scale Voluntary Transfer (LSVT) programme (from the Housing Act 1985), allowed for local authority housing stock to be transferred to HAs.

The LSVT programme had a number of aims, including bringing in private finance to tackle backlogs of repairs without increased public borrowing, and bringing (presumed) private sector efficiencies into the sector. Since 1988, 1.3 million homes have been transferred to HAs in this way (IFS, pg 9).

HAs have been highly effective in attracting private finance into the sector for development purposes under the mixed-funding regime introduced by the Housing Act 1988. It should also be mentioned that, because HA residents do not have the statutory right to buy, their housing stock is retained as affordable in perpetuity.

However, there are concerns that HAs are becoming more commercial, with a focus on development and non-core activities, rather than services provided to existing residents (see here and here).

And, whereas local authority controlled social housing gives residents the opportunity to go directly to their elected councillors if they are unhappy, HA boards are, arguably, rather less transparent. This can be seen in Anita’s* case, as she struggles to get through to her HA.