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Reclassification of housing associations as public sector bodies could add to Britain's debt mountain

Britain's statistical authority is carrying out a review of the country's housing associations, in a move that could add £60bn to the national debt pile.

The Office for National Statistics is in the "early stages" of a possible reclassification of the bodies - which are currently considered part of the private sector, according to an ONS spokesman.

The move could pile an extra 4pc of national debt on to the government's balance sheet. Britain's current debt pile stands at £1.5 trillion. Total borrowings for more than 300 of the biggest housing associations were £59.3bn in 2014.

Bringing down the national debt has been one of the cornerstones of the Conservatives' economic policy over the last five years.

"We are undertaking preliminary work looking at the structure of housing associations," said the ONS.

The change is being considered after the Government increased its involvement in the way the bodies are run in a bid to improve their efficiency.

In his summer Budget, the Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to reduce rents for housing association tenants by 1pc over the next four years.

The government has also extended its flagship Right To Buy scheme to housing associations, a move that could force them to sell their homes at a discount.

An update on the review is due to be announced by the ONS at the end of September.

Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament on Wednesday that housing associations were "part of the public sector".

"I think it is vital that we reform housing associations and make sure that they are more efficient," said the PM.

"They are a part of the public sector that has not been through efficiencies and has not improved its performance, and I think it is about time that it did."

Last year, the ONS announced a change to the way public finances were calculated to bring the UK in line with European standards. The shift added £127bn to the government's balance sheet.