Housing associations are independent, not-for-profit charities. In general, they provide affordable rented housing for people who cannot afford to pay private sector rents or buy their own homes, or for particular groups, such as older people or homeless people.
Housing co-operatives are organisations of tenants or owners where the members share responsibility for the management and upkeep of their homes. Tenant housing co-operatives are very similar to housing associations.
These voluntary housing organisations are known as approved housing bodies (AHBs). This means that they have been approved under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 for the purpose of accessing assistance from local authorities for housing provision. While there are differences between the various types of organisation involved, the term “housing associations” is also often used to cover all voluntary housing organisations.
On 7 April 2016, approved housing bodies were brought under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) and they must now register their tenancies with the RTB. Approved housing bodies now have the same rights and obligations as private landlords and their tenants have the same rights and obligations as private tenants, with some exceptions.
There are over 500 approved housing bodies and they vary widely in size and in the services that they provide. As well as providing affordable rented housing, they generally aim to encourage community development.
Some were established by existing caring organisations that provide services to special needs groups, such as older people or people with disabilities. Some also offer non-housing services, such as group meals, social activities and welfare advice. Some facilitate people who wish to live in a different area. Examples of these are the Safe-Home programme, which is for older Irish-born emigrants living in rented accommodation who wish to return to Ireland, or Rural Resettlement Ireland, for urban dwellers wishing to resettle their families in a rural area.
In order to be housed by an approved housing body, you must normally be registered on the local authority housing waiting list in your area. To be registered on the housing waiting list, your income must be below a prescribed level. (There are 3 maximum income thresholds that apply to different local authorities.) You must also have a need for housing, that is, your current housing circumstances must be unsuitable. Read more in our document on applying for local authority housing.
If you want to be considered for housing provided by an approved housing body, make sure you tick the box marked “voluntary/co-operative housing” in the ‘Housing Requirements’ section of the application form.
The housing department of your local authority will be able to tell you if there are approved housing bodies active in your area. In most cases, the local authority will refer you to an AHB if an appropriate vacancy arises. A very small number of AHBs may accept direct applications.
The Irish Council for Social Housing can give you general information on housing associations.
Co-operative Housing Ireland (formerly called NABCO) is the national federation for the co-operative housing sector and can give you general information about housing co-operatives.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000. The Phone Service will operate Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm during January 2017. You can also visit your local Citizens Information Centre.