Definitions of general housing terms

Definitions for local authorities compiling data.


For dwelling stock data, unless specifically stated, the definition used follows the Census’s definition applicable at that time. The Census’s definition has changed several times. For example, the 1991 Census defined a dwelling as structurally separate accommodation. This was determined primarily by considering the type of accommodation, as well as separate and shared access to multi-occupied properties. The 2001 Census defined dwellings as either containing a single household space or several household spaces sharing some facilities. For an explanation of how the dwelling count is derived from the 2011 Census, including the definitions of a dwelling and a household, please read the note, The 2011 Census dwelling count (available to download from Notes and definitions for stock data.

A ‘household’s accommodation’ (a household space) is defined as being in a shared dwelling if it has accommodation type ‘part of a converted or shared house’, not all the rooms (including bathroom and toilet, if any) are behind a door that only that household can use and there is at least one other such household space at the same address with which it can be combined to form the shared dwelling. If any of these conditions are not met, the household space forms an unshared dwelling. Therefore a dwelling can consist of one household space (an unshared dwelling) or two or more household spaces (a shared dwelling).

In recent years (since 2001) a dwelling is defined (in line with the 2001 Census definition) as a self-contained unit of accommodation. Self-containment is where all the rooms (including kitchen, bathroom and toilet) in a household’s accommodation are behind a single door which only that household can use. Non-self contained household spaces at the same address should be counted together as a single dwelling. Therefore a dwelling can consist of one self-contained household space or two or more non-self-contained household spaces at the same address.

Ancillary dwellings (eg former ‘granny annexes’) are included provided they are self-contained, pay separate council tax from the main residence, do not share access with the main residence (eg a shared hallway) and there are no conditional restrictions on occupancy.

Communal establishments, ie establishments providing managed residential accommodation, are not counted in overall housing supply statistics (however, all student accommodation, whether it consists of communal halls of residence or self-contained dwellings, and whether or not it is on campus, can be included towards the housing provision in local development plans). These cover university and college student, hospital staff accommodation, hostels/homes, hotels/holiday complexes, defence establishments (not married quarters) and prisons. However, purpose-built (separate) homes (eg self-contained flats clustered into units with 4 to 6 bedrooms for students) should be included. Each self-contained unit should be counted as a dwelling.

Non permanent (or ‘temporary’) dwellings are included if they are the occupant’s main residence and council tax is payable on them as a main residence. These include caravans, mobile homes, converted railway carriages and houseboats. Permanent traveller pitches should also be counted if they are, or likely to become, the occupants’ main residence.

In all stock figures, vacant dwellings and second homes are included.

House building statistics collect data on permanent dwellings only ie dwellings that have a design life of over 60 years.

Type of dwelling

Houses, bungalows, flats, maisonettes and bedsits are types of accommodation used in the Census but no clear definition of these is provided. Houses include single storey bungalows. A flat is very difficult to define and there are many types. However, the Building Regulations 2000 (SI 2000 no.2531) give the following definition:

  • ‘A flat is a separate and self-contained premises constructed or adapted for use for residential purposes and forming part of a building from some other part of which it is divided horizontally.’

In other words, flats have to be contained within a dwelling with at least two storeys. Flats include maisonettes; maisonettes are flats containing more than one storey.


In general we use the National Statistics harmonised survey definition of a household, which is:

One person or a group of people who have the accommodation as their only or main residence AND (for a group)

  • either share at least one meal a day, or
  • share the living accommodation, that is, a living room or sitting room.

The occupant(s) of a bedsit who do not share a sitting or living room with anyone else comprise a single household.

For the household projections and mid year estimates (section 4) a household is defined as in the 2001 census:

  • one person living alone, or
  • a group of people living at the same address with common housekeeping - that is, sharing either a living room or at least one meal a day.


There are up to four tenure categories for dwelling stock, house building and household figures. These are:

  • owner-occupied (or private enterprise in the case of house building statistics dwellings i.e. financed and built by private developers for owner occupiers or private landlords, whether persons or companies). This includes accommodation that is owned outright or is being bought with a mortgage.
  • rented privately, defined as all non-owner-occupied property other than that rented from local authorities and housing associations plus that rented from private or public bodies by virtue of employment. This includes property occupied rent-free by someone other than the owner. New build privately rented dwellings will be included in the house building private enterprise figures.
  • rented from housing associations (for stock figures non-registered Housing Associations are excluded and subsumed within owner-occupied as are shared ownership and shared equity dwellings part owned by a housing association; for house building figures this tenure includes social rent, affordable rent, intermediate rent and low-cost home ownership housing association new build dwellings although the latter category may be under-counted); and
  • rented from Local Authorities (see definition below). In Scotland dwellings rented from local authorities include those rented from Scottish Homes, formerly the Scottish Special

Housing associations

Housing associations in England are independent societies, bodies of trustees or companies established for the purpose of providing low-cost social housing for people in housing need on a non-profit-making basis. Any trading surplus is used to maintain existing homes and to help finance new ones. They are now England’s major providers of new homes for rent, while many also run shared ownership schemes to help people who cannot afford to buy their own homes outright.

Housing associations provide a wide range of housing, some managing large estates of housing for families, while the smallest may perhaps manage a single scheme of housing for older people. Much of the supported accommodation in England is also provided by housing associations, with specialist projects for people with mental health or learning disabilities, with substance misuse problems (drugs or alcohol), the formerly homeless, young people, ex-offenders and women fleeing domestic violence.

In England, housing associations were formerly funded and regulated by the Housing Corporation, a non-departmental public body that reported to the Department for Communities and Local Government. The Housing Corporation ceased operation in November 2008 and its duties transferred to the Tenant Services Authority, who were responsible for the regulation of housing associations, and the Homes and Communities Agency, who are responsible for their investment. In April 2012 the Tenant Services Authority was closed and its regulation function transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency. In Northern Ireland, these roles are carried out by the Northern Ireland Executive; in Scotland by Communities Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish Executive Development Department; and in Wales by the Welsh Assembly.

Housing associations has been used as the generic name for all social landlords not covered by local authorities (see below). In previous editions housing associations were referred to as Registered Social Landlords, although the term (private) Registered Provider of social housing is now commonly used.

Although housing associations not registered with the Homes and Communities Agency/the Scottish Housing Regulator are strictly not private Registered Providers, unless it is otherwise stated private Registered Provider data normally represent all housing association owned dwellings and other registered providers apart from local authorities, and Local Housing Companies. Figures for Northern Ireland relate solely to those associations registered with the Housing Associations Branch of the Department for Social Development.

Non registered providers can provide housing for the employees of associated industrial and other undertakings, for special groups such as the aged, disabled people or single persons, or housing on a mutual and self-build basis. Fair rent societies and co-ownership associations set up with the assistance of Tenant Services Authority/Homes and Communities Agency are included, as are associations formed specially for providing homes on behalf of local authorities. (Stock owned by Scottish Homes, which replaced the Scottish Special Housing Association and the Housing Corporation in Scotland in 1989, is considered to be public authority stock and therefore included as a local authority stock (q.v.).) The number of dwellings owned and built by non-registered housing association is insignificant compared with those that are registered.

Local Housing Companies are independent, non-profit companies that manage tenanted housing. They are run by a board that is normally split three ways to ensure that tenants, councillors and local independent professionals are all represented. A number of these companies have been set up to run single ex-local authority estates, transferred to the local housing company using the Estates Renewal Challenge Fund.

Local authorities

Local authorities are registered providers with the Homes and Communities Agency.

Stock in this category represents all dwellings owned and built by local housing authorities under the Housing Act 1985. Although dwellings built by New Towns and other government departments (eg Armed Forces such as Ministry of Defence and prison authorities etc) were collected separately, their estimates have been included in this category for presentational purposes. Historically it is considered reasonable to include these in the same category because either the numbers involved are insignificant or they no longer exist (see details below).

In England and Wales, local housing authorities are the unitary authorities, district councils, the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the London Borough councils, the Common Council of the City of London and, until its abolition at the end of March 1986, the Greater London Council.

As of 1 April 2009, the number of local housing authorities in England reduced from 354 to 326, due to the creation of nine new unitary authorities.

In Scotland, prior to April 1996 local housing authorities were the district councils and island areas; from 1 April 1996 onwards they are the unitary authority areas. Scottish Homes, which replaced the Scottish Special Housing Association and the Housing Corporation in Scotland, because it is a statutory body assisting local authorities in their housing programmes, is treated as a local authority for the purposes of these statistics. Although Scottish Homes still own dwellings, they are no longer building new houses and the last new dwelling was completed in 1991.

In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive took over in the early 1970s the housing functions previously exercised by local and public authorities. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive is the Northern Ireland equivalent of Local Authority housing providers in Great Britain but is organised in a divisional structure which is not directly comparable with Northern Ireland District Council areas.

The term New Towns includes development corporations established under the New Town Acts. All New Towns have ceased to exist (England from April 1992, Wales April 1996 and Scotland December 1996 with no house building in Scotland since 1995) and their housing functions and stocks have been transferred to local authorities or to housing associations, or to Scottish Homes in Scotland. There are no New Towns in Northern Ireland.

Government departments’ dwellings are those provided or authorised by government departments for the families of police, prison staff, the armed forces and certain other services. In the stock figures, these are treated as rented privately. Data on their house building is no longer collected as a separate tenure as there had been virtually no houses built by government departments in England and Wales since 1996 and 1993 respectively. Although historically these had been counted as local authority built (see above), currently such new building is classified as private enterprise.

Public and private sectors

Where the term ‘private sector’ is used in housing policy and housing statistics, it is generally meant “private housing” sector or non-social housing sector ie owner-occupied dwellings and those rented privately, including those that go with a job or business and not those owned by housing associations. All local authority dwellings are public sector dwellings.

However, in government accounting (the Blue Book), housing associations are treated as private sector even though they are engaged in the provision of social housing. To save confusion, it is best to disregard this unless the usage refers to public account rather than housing.

The Blue Book is published by the Office for National Statistics, in connection with the National Accounts and is available on its website.

For housing data, housing associations are generally separately out to identify the extent of social housing. For house building starts and completions data, especially the former, there is a possibility that some dwellings built for housing associations could have been counted as “private enterprise” and vice versa. This is because sometimes the builders themselves are not sure of the precise ownership or the ownership may keep evolving and it is not final until it was sold.

Social and affordable housing

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. From April 2012 affordable housing is defined in the National Planning Policy Framework (prior to this the definitions in Planning Policy Statement 3 apply).

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.

Social rented housing is owned by local authorities and private registered providers (as defined in section 80 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008), for which guideline target rents are determined through the national rent regime. It may also be owned by other persons and provided under equivalent rental arrangements to the above, as agreed with the local authority or with the Homes and Communities Agency.

Affordable rented housing is 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 per cent of the local market rent (including service charges, where applicable).

Intermediate housing is homes for sale and rent provided at a cost above social rent, but below market levels subject to the criteria in the Affordable Housing definition above. These can include shared equity (shared ownership and equity loans), other low cost homes for sale and intermediate rent, but not affordable rented housing. Homes that do not meet the above definition of affordable housing, such as ‘low cost market’ housing, may not be considered as affordable housing for planning purposes.

Published 14 November 2012