Blog Post

Social housing in the UK: how developers can meet the challenge

13.09.2021 | 5 min read | Written by Alexandra Hasek

It is well established that the UK has a problem when it comes to building social housing. At first glance, the solution seems obvious: we simply need to create more affordable dwellings. However, the reality is that building social housing is very complicated.

The major challenge for private developers who are looking to build affordable and social housing in the UK is that they still need to turn a profit. In an industry with such fine margins, the natural choice will be to build properties that sell for more. As a result, building affordable homes just isn’t a priority.

Nevertheless, with various national targets for the amount of affordable and social housing in new developments, it is going to be important to find ways to produce more of these kinds of properties.

So, what are the issues surrounding the construction of affordable and social housing in the UK, and how can contractors rise to the challenge?

Social housing

Targets for affordable and social housing in the UK

There is a confusing range of targets for affordable and social housing in the UK set by both national and local governments. For developers, making sense of these requirements can be a real headache:

  • The government has set a target for 300,000 new homes to be built every year until 2031.
  • At least 10% of all homes in new developments should be affordable. ‘Affordable’ means that either the rent or the price of the full unit should equate to no more than 80% of the average local market price.
  • Regulations such as Section 106 define how many affordable homes must be included in the development. This varies by the size of the plot, the number of houses built and the size of the contractor.
  • Certain councils have particularly high targets for affordable housing in private developments. In London, for instance, the target is 60%.


Of course, many exemptions and local rules apply, all of which can make building social housing very complex.

How can we deliver more social housing in new developments?

There is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to the complex problem of social housing in the UK. Ultimately addressing the issue will require a change in planning laws, enforced building targets and inventive new ways of using space – much of which is outside of developers’ hands.

That said, there are several things that developers can do to reduce the costs associated with building social housing. This will allow them to build more affordable properties while still managing to turn a profit. The following suggestions describe some of the available methods:

  • Save money on facades

Facades play a critical role in insulation and aesthetic appeal and tend to be expensive. Fortunately, there are many things that developers and architects can do to reduce the costs associated with this shell and structure.

One of the major costs associated with facades is form. Adding bays and other types of variation can add significant expense to the construction process. However, you can reduce these costs by making smart design choices. For instance, reducing the number of bays in a design will reduce the number of corners in a building. That means you need less labour and materials and the overall cost is therefore lower.

Choosing less expensive materials is another way of cutting costs when building social housing in new developments. For affordable properties, it may be possible to use a mix of expensive and lower cost materials which still look visually appealing.

  • Smarter interior planning

There are several things that developers can do to reduce the cost of new-build social housing interiors. One of the simplest changes is to remove hallways and use that space in the living area. This can make a unit with a small footprint still feel spacious.

Another cost-saving design is to share ‘wet walls’ between bathroom and kitchen. This ensures that all the plumbing is in one place. This makes it easier to install pipes and saves time and money.

  • Repeatability

Repeatability is one of the most effective ways of reducing costs when building new affordable and social housing. If more of the units are identical, then the contractor can simply repeat the process over and again for each unit. Repeatability makes construction faster and therefore saves time and money.

  • Modular construction

A growing number of new-build social housing developments in the UK make use of modular construction. This is where large parts of the unit are built off-site in a factory before being installed in situ. Building in a factory reduces a lot of the risk and costs involved in construction. For example, you are never constrained by the weather, produce less waste and can ensure that every element leaving the factory is defect-free. Those benefits, in turn, means that you can sell homes for less.

Case study: Modular construction for the residential, educational and healthcare sectors.

  • Better project management

Efficiently managing projects is also crucial when building affordable and social housing. This is where new technologies can help. By improving communication between contractors, subcontractors, the architect and the owner, construction project management software allows everyone to communicate and share information quickly and efficiently. This reduces the risk of misunderstandings and mistakes and ensures projects run smoother in general.

  • Improving construction efficiency

There are various tools that house builders can use to improve construction efficiency. Software that supports quality control, task management and handovers can all boost efficiency and therefore reduce your costs.

Learn more: What is software for housebuilders?

Rise to the challenge of providing housing for all in the UK

While property developers and contractors cannot solve all of the UK’s affordable housing problems, they can make a significant contribution. By using techniques that allow them to build affordable homes at competitive prices while still making a profit, they can help address the country’s affordable housing shortage and improve millions of people’s lives. So, will you rise to the challenge?

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