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CIH Scotland

Housing advisers

Housing associations and local authorities - the legal differences in relation to housing of new migrants

This page is for housing advisers. If you are a new arrival please click here for information more relevant to you.

Local authorities are public authorities who are required to produce a race equality scheme by law.

Housing associations are independent organisations, regulated and often funded by the government, providing housing for people in need and are expected to have equality schemes in place.

Local authorities can only place certain people on their allocation schemes or waiting lists for housing: this is set out in legislation. They have to run services to provide emergency and temporary housing for homeless people and to give them some priority in housing, but eligibility for these services is also restricted - see the page on who is eligible for a housing allocation or homelessness assistance.

Both local authorities and housing associations should follow the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Code of Practice on Services, Public Functions and Associations. Both should have a proper scheme, available to the public, for deciding who gets any vacant homes.

Housing associations are required to co-operate with local authorities and most have nomination or referral agreements with them. This allows the local authority to send recommendations to the association to fill a certain percentage of their vacant housing each year. Some associations allow local councils to fill all the vacancies they may have. The people nominated or referred must come from the council allocations scheme and be eligible for housing.

Some associations run services for councils on contract. These services may include allocations schemes, homelessness services, or housing management. When they run these contracts, they have to operate within the law as it applies to councils, which includes testing applicants for eligibility.

When housing associations are deciding for themselves who is to get their housing (not accepting a referral from a local authority or carrying out a contract for them), they are independent bodies who must make their decision within the law and according to their own policies. These policies should not discriminate, directly or indirectly against any applicants, and if you believe they do you can get further help from the page on challenging discrimination.

In Scotland, by law, local authorities and housing associations must also not take an applicant's income into account in making an allocation decision.  It is good practice, however, to make sure that prospective tenants can afford any tenancy they are to take on. Guidance on this issue is included in Housing Migrants and Refugees, published in June 2011 by Glasgow Housing Association in conjunction with the SFHA, the Scottish Government, the Lintel Trust and Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations (note however that because of the publication date, aspects of this guide no longer apply).

Housing associations in England are prohibited from letting properties directly (rather than through the local authority’s allocation scheme) to people who do not have the 'right to rent' under the Immigration Act 2014. This does not yet apply in Scotland.

Background Topics

How can we improve housing for new migrants in the UK?

A Housing Practitioners' Guide to Integrating Asylum Seekers & Refugees

A Housing Practitioners Guide to Integrating Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Published by the Scottish Refugee Council with support from CIH Scotland

Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland