Social housing in the United Kingdom has undergone significant transformation over the past decade. A key aspect of this transformation has been the changing patterns in the geographic distribution of housing stock held by registered providers.

In this blog we talk about:

A Decade of Change: From Concentration to Diversification

Ten years ago, the social housing sector was characterised by a high degree of geographic concentration, with many registered providers maintaining a substantial portion of their stock within specific local authority areas or regions. This approach was influenced by historical connections, local expertise, and the goal of building a strong presence in communities.

Recently, providers have been expanding their reach to new locations, beyond traditional boundaries.

Data from the Regulator of Social Housing indicates that in 2024, only 37% of registered providers had more than 75% of their stock concentrated within a single local authority, a significant decrease from 52% in 2014. Similarly, only 22% of those owning more than 10,000 homes having such high levels of geographic concentration, down from 44% in 2014.

The trend towards diversification can be attributed to several factors;

a) The drive for efficiency and economies of scale has encouraged providers to explore opportunities beyond their traditional operating areas. By expanding their portfolios across multiple regions, providers can leverage their expertise and resources more effectively, achieving greater efficiencies in areas such as procurement, maintenance, and management.

b) The changing funding landscape and rise of strategic partnerships has necessitated a more strategic approach to stock acquisition and management. With increasing competition for grants and other funding sources, providers have sought to diversify their portfolios to mitigate risk and maintain a steady pipeline of development opportunities.

The Affordable Homes Programme from 2011, which allocated funding on a more competitive basis, has been cited as a key driver of this trend.

Strategic Considerations: Balancing Opportunities and Risks

Deciding to acquire or divest housing stock in certain areas is driven by a mix of strategic considerations. For registered providers, these considerations span financial, operational, and social factors, reflecting the diverse nature of their missions and objectives.

Financial Considerations:

Registered providers must carefully evaluate the financial viability of potential acquisitions or divestments, considering factors such as property values, rental yields, and maintenance costs.

Areas with strong housing demand and positive market trends may present attractive investment opportunities, while areas with stagnant or declining property values may prompt divestment strategies.

According to data from the Regulator of Social Housing, in 2022/23, registered providers invested over £13 billion in developing new homes and maintaining existing stock, highlighting the significant financial considerations involved in portfolio management.

Operational Efficiency:

Geographic concentration can facilitate operational efficiencies by allowing providers to leverage existing infrastructure, staff resources, and local knowledge. However, excessive concentration can also increase risk exposure, making diversification a prudent strategy for mitigating potential shocks or changes in local market conditions.

For example, Sovereign Housing Association, which has a strong presence in the South of England, has expanded its operations into the Midlands and North West regions to enhance its resilience and access new development opportunities.

Social Impact and Community Engagement:

As mission-driven organisations, registered providers must also consider the social impact of their decisions. Maintaining a presence in areas with high levels of deprivation or housing need can be a strategic priority, even if they present financial challenges.

The Role of For-Profit Registered Providers

Within the social housing sector, a notable trend in recent years is the rise of for-profit registered providers.  These regulated organisations focus on offering affordable housing while generating profit.

One of the defining characteristics of for-profit registered providers is their approach to stock acquisition and divestment. Unlike their traditional counterparts, these providers have a more agile and opportunistic approach, aiming to maximize investments while achieving their social goals.

A common model among for-profit registered providers involves actively acquiring housing stock from developers or local authorities, often through bulk purchases. These properties are often refurbished, managed, and maintained for a period, during which the provider generates rental income and potential capital appreciation.

However, the unique aspect of this model lies in the subsequent divestment strategy. Rather than retaining the stock, for-profit registered providers aim to sell to others, often at a premium, after a predetermined holding period. This approach allows them to realise their investment returns while simultaneously enabling traditional registered providers to expand their portfolios and meet local housing needs.

This business model has attracted both praise and criticism within the sector. Proponents argue that for-profit registered providers bring private investment and innovation to the social housing market, helping to address the undersupply of affordable housing.

Critics, however, raise concerns about the long-term impact of this approach on housing affordability and community stability. They argue that the constant churn of properties between providers can disrupt tenant communities and potentially lead to rent increases as properties are sold at market rates. There are also concerns that the profit motive may incentivise providers to prioritise financial returns over social impact, potentially compromising the sector’s fundamental mission.

The Merits and Drawbacks of Geographic Diversification

As registered providers navigate the complex landscape of housing stock acquisition and divestment, the question of geographic diversification remains a contentious issue. While there are compelling arguments on both sides, it is essential to weigh the potential merits and drawbacks carefully.


1. Risk Mitigation:

By spreading their portfolios across multiple regions, registered providers can mitigate the risks associated with localised economic downturns, demographic shifts, or policy changes that may impact specific areas.

2. Access to New Development Opportunities:

Expanding into new geographic areas can open access to untapped development sites, land opportunities, and potential partnerships with local authorities or developers.

3. Operational Efficiencies:

With a larger and more diverse portfolio, registered providers can leverage economies of scale in areas such as procurement, maintenance, and centralised management functions.

4. Responsive to Changing Housing Needs:

Geographic diversification allows providers to adapt more readily to shifting patterns of housing demand, allocating resources to areas experiencing population growth or increased housing needs.


1. Loss of Local Knowledge and Community Ties:

When a provider enters new areas, their understanding of the local community and connections with stakeholders may weaken. This can make it harder for them to manage properties effectively.

2. Operational Challenges:

Managing a geographically dispersed portfolio can present logistical and operational challenges, particularly in areas such as maintenance, tenant support, and community engagement. According to a survey by the National Housing Federation in 2022, 68% of registered providers cited challenges in maintaining consistent service levels across multiple regions as a significant concern.

3. Increased Costs:

Establishing a presence in new areas often requires significant upfront investment in infrastructure, staffing, and other resources, potentially impacting profitability in the short term. Data from the Regulator of Social Housing shows that providers expanding into new regions typically experience a temporary dip in operating margins during the initial years of expansion.

4. Potential for Overextension:

Rapid geographic expansion without proper due diligence and risk assessment can lead to overextension, straining a provider’s resources and capabilities.

The Future of Social Housing Stock Distribution and Emerging Trends

1. The Role of Technology and Innovation:

Technological advancements, such as digital platforms for remote property management, data analytics for strategic decision-making, and the integration of smart home technologies, are likely to play an increasingly significant role in enabling registered providers to manage geographically dispersed portfolios more effectively.

2. Emphasis on Environmental Sustainability:

With growing concerns over climate change and environmental impact, registered providers are likely to prioritise the acquisition and development of environmentally sustainable housing stock. This may lead to a concentration of new developments in areas with favourable conditions for implementing sustainable building practices and renewable energy sources.

3. Tenant Empowerment and Community-Focused Strategies:

As the social housing sector continues to evolve, there is likely to be a greater emphasis on tenant empowerment and community-focused strategies. This may influence stock distribution patterns, as providers seek to maintain a strong presence within specific communities and involve tenants in decision-making processes.

4. Policy and Regulatory Developments:

Changes in government policies, funding mechanisms, and regulatory frameworks will undoubtedly shape the landscape of social housing stock distribution. Providers will need to remain agile and adaptable, continuously reassessing their strategies in response to these developments.

5. Collaborative Approaches and Partnerships:

Collaborative approaches and strategic partnerships between registered providers, local authorities, developers, and other stakeholders are expected to become increasingly prevalent. These collaborations may facilitate more efficient and coordinated approaches to stock acquisition, development, and management across diverse geographic areas.

By embracing innovation, prioritising sustainability, empowering tenants, navigating policy changes, and fostering collaborative partnerships, registered providers can effectively address the housing needs of communities across the UK.


As the sector continues to evolve, the location of housing stock is likely to remain a topic of intense debate and strategic consideration. Registered providers must strike a balance between geographic concentration and diversification, considering their unique circumstances, objectives, and the needs of the community.

Ultimately, the key to success lies in adopting a strategic and data-driven approach to stock acquisition and divestment decisions. Providers can make smart decisions by studying market trends, population changes, and local housing needs. This will help them improve their portfolios and make their operations more efficient. Allowing them to continue providing high-quality, affordable housing for those in need.

Written By

Published: 24th June 2024
Area: Social Housing

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Joanna heads up our social housing development team. Her expertise encompasses advising on social housing development transactions, from site assemblies to larger scale phased/portfolio sales and purchases.

Having acted for registered providers since 2001, Joanna’s expertise encompasses all aspects of affordable housing acquisitions, sales and development and is often the primary interface on multi-disciplinary projects involving cross-departmental working.

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