Semi-detached council house in Seacroft, Leeds, West Yorkshire
Semi-detached council house in Seacroft, Leeds, West Yorkshire
A mixture of council and ex-council housing (through Right to Buy scheme) in Hurlford, East Ayrshire, Scotland
A mixture of council and ex-council housing (through Right to Buy scheme) in Hurlford, East Ayrshire, Scotland

A council house or council flat is a form of British public housing built by local authorities. A council estate is a building complex containing a number of council houses and other amenities like schools and shops. Construction took place mainly from 1919 after the Housing Act 1919 to the 1980s, with much less council housing built since then. There were local design variations, but they all adhered to local authority building standards. The Housing Acts of 1985 and 1988 facilitated the transfer of council housing to not-for-profit housing associations with access to private finance, and these new housing associations became the providers of most new public-sector housing. The characterisation of council houses as 'problem places' was key for leading this movement of transferring public housing stock to the private arena. By 2003, 36.5% of the social rented housing stock was held by housing associations.[1]


House design in the United Kingdom is defined by a series of Housing Acts, and public housing house design is defined by government directives and central governments' relationship with local authorities. From the first interventions in the Public Health Act 1875, council houses could be general housing for the working class, general housing, part of slum clearance programmes or just homes provided for the most needy. They could be funded directly by local councils, through central government incentive or by revenue obtained when other houses were sold. Increasingly, they have been transferred through the instrument of housing associations into the private sector.[citation needed]

First World War housing

Woolwich Borough Council was responsible for the Well Hall Estate designed for workers at the munition factories at Woolwich Arsenal. The estate and the house were built to the garden suburb philosophy: houses were all different. The estate received the royal seal of approval when, on Friday 24 March 1916, Queen Mary made an unannounced visit. [2]

Interwar housing

A programme of council house building started after the First World War following on from the David Lloyd George’s government’s Housing Act of 1919. The 'Addison Act' brought in subsidies for council house building and aimed to provide 500,000 "homes fit for heroes" within a three-year period although less than half of this target was met.[3] The housing built comprised three-bedroom dwellings with parlour and scullery: larger properties also include a living room. The standards are based on the Tudor Walters Report of 1919, and the Design Manual written according to the 1913 building standards.[4]

In 1923 the Chamberlain Act withdrew subsidies for council houses except for private builders and houses for sale. Councils could undertake to build houses and offer these for sale but also to sell off some of their existing properties. This was essentially reversed by the incoming Labour government of 1924. The Wheatley Act (1924) passed by the new Labour Government introduced higher subsidies for council housing and also allowed for a contribution to be made from the rates. The housing revenue account was always separated from the general account.[3] This was a major period of council house construction.

The Housing Act 1930 stimulated slum clearance, i.e., the destruction of inadequate houses in the inner cities that had been built before the 1875 Act. This released land for housing and the need for smaller two bedroomed houses to replace the two-up two-down houses that had been demolished. Smaller three bedroom properties were also built. The Housing Act 1935 led to a continuation of this policy, [5] but the war stopped all construction, and enemy action reduced the usable housing stock. [3]

Post-World War II housing

Permanent dwellings completed in England by tenure type, showing the effect of the 1980 Housing Act in curtailing council house construction and reducing total new build numbers
Permanent dwellings completed in England by tenure type, showing the effect of the 1980 Housing Act in curtailing council house construction and reducing total new build numbers


The Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act 1944 led to the building of prefab bungalows with a design life of ten years. Innovative steel-framed properties were also tried in an attempt to speed up construction. A number survive well into the 21st century, a testament to the durability of a series of housing designs and construction methods only envisaged to last 10 years.

The Burt Committee, formed in 1942 by the wartime government of Winston Churchill, proposed to address the need for an anticipated 200,000 shortfall in post-war housing stock, by building 500,000 prefabricated houses, with a planned life of up to 10 years within five years of the end of the Second World War. The eventual bill, under the post-war Labour government of Prime Minister Clement Attlee, agreed to deliver 300,000 units within 10 years, within a budget of £150m. Of 1.2 million new houses built from 1945 to 1951 when the programme officially ended, 156,623 prefab houses were constructed.[6][7]

New Towns Act housing

Mainly during the immediate post-war years, and well into the 1950s, council house provision was shaped by the New Towns Act 1946 and the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 of the 1945–51 Labour government. At the same time this government introduced housing legislation that removed explicit references to housing for the working class and introduced the concept of "general needs" construction (i.e., that council housing should aim to fill the needs for a wide range of society). In particular, Aneurin Bevan, the Minister for Health and Housing, promoted a vision of new estates where "the working man, the doctor and the clergyman will live in close proximity to each other".[8]

Landlord's obligations

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A landlord's obligations are set out in several pieces of legislation, including the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which applies to tenancies entered into after 1961. In summary, section 11 provides that a landlord shall:

If a landlord refuses to repair a rented property, the tenant can take action to require them to carry out necessary works and claim compensation.


Addison Act housing (1918–1923)

Further information: Public housing in the United Kingdom

The Addison Act 1919 houses were usually three-bedroom houses with a living room and scullery, sometimes also with a parlour. Some had two, four, or even five bedrooms, as well as generously sized back gardens intended for vegetable growing. At most, they were built at 3,000/km2. They were generally built to the recommendations of the Tudor Walters Report.[citation needed] Examples are found in Downham, Watling Estate, and Becontree.[citation needed]

Tudor Walters Committee recommendations

Tudor Walters Committee recommendations
House without a parlour Area sq ft (m2 ) Volume cu ft (m3 ) House with a parlour Area sq ft (m2 ) Volume cu ft (m3 )
Parlour 120 (11) 960 (27)
Living room 180 (17) 1,440 (41) Living room 180 (17) 1,440 (41)
Scullery 80 (7.4) 640 (18) Scullery 80 (7.4) 640 (18)
Larder 24 (2.2) Larder 24 (2.2)
Bedroom No. 1 150 (14) 1,200 (34) Bedroom No. 1 160 (15) 1,280 (36)
Bedroom No. 2 100 (9.3) 800 (23) Bedroom No. 2 120 (11) 960 (27)
Bedroom No. 3 65 (6.0) 520 (15) Bedroom No. 3 110 (10) 880 (25)
Total 855 sq ft (79.4 m2) 1,055 sq ft (98.0 m2)
Desirable minimum sizes, Tudor Walters Committee[9]

Labour government homes (1924–1930)

The Addison Act 1919, and the severe housing shortage in the early 1920s created the first generation of houses to feature electricity, running water, bathrooms, indoor toilets and front/rear gardens. However, until well into the 1930s, some were built with outdoor toilets. Some did not feature an actual bathroom; the bath could often be found in the kitchen with a design which allowed it to double as a work surface. [10]

The Chamberlain Act 1923 reduced the expected standards. The Wheatley Act 1924 attempted to restore some of them. Under the Addison Act, a house would be 1,000 square feet (93 m2) but after 1924 it would be 620 square feet (58 m2).[11] This was a major period of council house construction.

Smaller houses (1931–1939)

With the Housing Act of 1930, otherwise known as the Greenwood Act, the government signalled a change of priority, slum clearance. Pre-regulation terraced housing was to be cleared and the residents rehoused in new council houses. There was a cut in funding and the housing density on the peripheral estates was increased leading to a poorer build quality. The former tenants of the inner city properties were displaced far from their workplaces unable to afford the higher rents (though reduced from the 1919 levels) or the cost of transport. Stable communities were broken up, and with it support networks. [11]

Temporary prefabs (1941–1950)

Main article: Prefabs in the UK

Grade II listed Phoenix prefabs in Wake Green Road, Birmingham

All prefab units approved by the Ministry of Works had to have a minimum floor space size of 635 square feet (59.0 m2), and the sections should be less than 7' 6" (2.3 m) wide.[7] These "service units" had to include a combined back-to-back prefabricated kitchen that backed onto a prebuilt bathroom, so water pipes, waste pipes and electrical distribution were all in the same place, and hence easy to install. The house retained a coal-fire, with a back boiler to create both central heating and a constant supply of hot water.[6] Thus it had a bathroom included a flushing toilet and man-sized bath with hot running water. In the kitchen were a built-in oven, refrigerator and baxi water heater. All prefabs under the housing act came pre-decorated in magnolia, with gloss-green on all additional wood, including the door trimmings and skirting boards.[6]

Pre-cast reinforced concrete

Further information: Pre-cast reinforced concrete houses in the United Kingdom

1950s semi-detached PRC houses in Seacroft, Leeds, West Yorkshire

Parker Morris homes

The Parker Morris Committee drew up an influential 1961 report on housing space standards in public housing in the United Kingdom titled Homes for Today and Tomorrow. The report concluded that the quality of social housing needed to be improved to match the rise in living standards. Out of the report came the Parker Morris Standards. In 1963 these were set out in the Ministry of Housing's "Design Bulletin 6 – Space in the Home". They became mandatory for all council houses from 1967 until 1980. [12] Among the Parker Morris standards were the requirements saying that:

Tower blocks

Main article: Tower blocks in Great Britain

Park Hill in Sheffield, built in the 1950-60s and refurbished in the 2010s.
Park Hill in Sheffield, built in the 1950-60s and refurbished in the 2010s.

Particularly in larger cities, councils built high-rise blocks from the 1960s to the 1980s to accommodate a high density of dwellings at relatively low cost. Notable schemes include Park Hill in Sheffield, Hulme Crescents in Manchester, Cottingley in Leeds, Churchill Gardens in London, and many examples in Glasgow.

Radburn Style Estates 1970s

Main article: Radburn design housing

The Radburn layout. Maisonettes on Teak Avenue, on the St Ann's estate, Nottingham. The facing houses are on Tulip Avenue, Nottingham. The upper houses are accessed from this walkway, while car access is limited to the crossing roads.
The Radburn layout. Maisonettes on Teak Avenue, on the St Ann's estate, Nottingham. The facing houses are on Tulip Avenue, Nottingham. The upper houses are accessed from this walkway, while car access is limited to the crossing roads.

The Radburn housing layout that aimed to separate cars from housing was used extensively in new towns. As a result, the houses are accessible to the front only by footpaths. This has created areas with poor surveillance, particularly over car parking at the rear, which have become the focus of crime.[citation needed] In Skelmersdale, tenants are calling for their Radburn style housing to be remodelled so that defensible space is created with parking close to their homes and a reduction in general use areas which give rise to anti-social behaviour.[13]

21st century revival

There was a revival in council housebuilding in the 2010s, with a focus on energy efficiency. Schemes such as Accordia in Cambridge and Goldsmith Street in Norwich[14] have won awards. In London, space standards have been reintroduced via the London Plan, and councils including Southwark[15] and Hounslow[16] are building thousands of new council houses.

Historical statistics on housing construction

Dwellings completed by local authorities, New Towns, and the Scottish Housing Association, 1945–80 (thousands)[17]

Dwellings completed 1945–80
Year England and Wales Scotland
1945–50 (annual average) 96.3 14.3
1951–55 (annual average) 188.1 30.9
1956–60 (annual average) 124.4 25.9
1961 98.5 20.1
1962 111.7 19.0
1963 102.4 21.6
1964 126.1 29.5
1965 140.9 27.6
1966 142.4 28.2
1967 159.3 34.0
1968 148.0 33.3
1969 139.9 34.3
1970 134.9 34.4
1971 117.2 28.6
1972 93.6 19.6
1973 79.3 17.3
1974 99.4 16.2
1975 122.9 22.8
1976 124.2 21.2
1977 121.2 14.3
1978 96.8 9.9
1979 75.0 7.9
1980 77.1 7.0

See also


  1. ^ Hal Pawson, Cathy Fancie (10 September 2003). The evolution of stock transfer housing associations (Report). Joseph Rowntree Foundation. ISBN 1-86134-545-3. Retrieved 27 July 2021.
  2. ^ Ideal Homes 2015.
  3. ^ a b c Housing in Wolverhampton 2012, 2.
  4. ^ John-Baptiste, Ashley (2019). "When council estates were a dream". BBC News. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  5. ^ Housing in Wolverhampton 2012, 3.
  6. ^ a b c National Museum of Wales 2007.
  7. ^ a b Sturgis 2003.
  8. ^ Panagidis, Andreas; Savva, Navia (2015). "ENTRY #411".
  9. ^ Manoochehri 2009, p. 70.
  10. ^ UWE 2008, Section 3..
  11. ^ a b UWE 2008, Section 4..
  12. ^ Design of Homes 2010.
  13. ^ Regions Nineteenth Report 2002.
  14. ^ "Spacious and green: inside Norwich's award-winning new council houses". The Guardian. 11 October 2019. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  15. ^ "Great Estates Programme". Southwark Council. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  16. ^ "5000 Pledge". Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  17. ^ Barnes, William (20 January 2009). John English (ed.). "The Future of Council Housing". Journal of Social Policy. London: Croom Helm. 12 (2): 268. doi:10.1017/S0047279400012691. S2CID 144054022.