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The evolution of stock transfer housing associations

The first in-depth research into the nature of housing associations created through the stock transfer process Large-scale ownership transfers are transforming social housing throughout Britain, with over 180 new housing associations since 1989.

Written by:
Hal Pawson and Cathy Fancie
Date published:

Given central government's continuing commitment to the active promotion of transfers, these organisations will soon dwarf the traditional housing association sector. This report presents the findings of the first in-depth research into the nature of the organisations being created through the stock transfer process.

It examines their organisational culture, governance and staff management. It also investigates the role of transfer housing associations as developers and their evolving relationships with the local authorities. The authors ask:

  • How different are transfer housing associations from traditional housing associations?
  • To what extent can they be considered 'a new breed of dynamic Registered Social Landlords'?
  • How far have they inherited the values and ethos of their antecedent bodies?


Large-scale ownership transfers are transforming social housing throughout Britain and, according to new research, have spawned more than 180 new housing associations since 1989. Whilst they are a diverse group, these agencies arguably represent a new class of social landlord. Whilst clearly distinct from local authorities, they tend to differ from traditional associations in terms of their stock profile and local focus, enduring close ties with founder local authorities, substantial tenant and (in England) councillor participation in governance and longer-term potential to generate substantial revenue surpluses. This study of pre-1999 transfers, by Hal Pawson and Cathie Fancy at Heriot-Watt University, finds that:

  • The transfer process has tended to have a liberating effect on housing staff with the move to a more inclusive culture in which individual initiative is encouraged.
  • Transfers have generally fostered staff ownership of corporate objectives to a degree far greater than in predecessor landlords.
  • Whilst transfer associations' initially high indebtedness might be expected to generate a 'hard-nosed' approach to housing management, this does not generally appear to be borne out: transfer landlords are much less likely to evict their tenants than traditional associations.
  • Substantial creativity has been displayed by transfer associations in their efforts to keep faith with business plan targets and in attempting to counteract continuing stock losses mainly due to the preserved Right to Buy.
  • In establishing themselves as financially sound, independent agencies with cohesive governing bodies, transfer associations often face considerable stresses in their early years.
  • The challenges being encountered by recently-established transfer associations (in particular, 'partial transfer' landlords) tend to be greater than those which faced their longer-established counterparts.


In the past 15 years, social housing in Britain has been substantially restructured through the transfer of former council stock into housing association ownership. Associations now manage over a third of all social sector dwellings - a threefold increase on the percentage in 1991.

Since the transfer process began in earnest in the late 1980s, more than 870,000 (tenanted) homes have been passed from state ownership (local authorities, new town development corporations or Scottish Homes) to housing associations (and, in a few cases, non-registered housing companies). By early 2003, 111 local authorities in England had transferred all their stock to housing associations. In addition, over forty authorities (twenty-three in England and nineteen in Scotland) have carried out 'partial stock transfers', where a council disposes of a package of tenanted housing whilst also retaining stock in its ownership.

A large majority of transferred stock has been taken into ownership by newly created associations, more than 180 in all. In most cases, these have been set up as free-standing bodies, though a few were established as subsidiaries of existing associations. Transfer associations are continuing to expand and now account for almost half of total association stock.

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