Local councils can only provide housing for people who are eligible. Most people who are living in the UK permanently are eligible, but there are some exceptions.
Being eligible for council housing doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed to be offered a place. It means that you are entitled to be considered for a home. In many areas, there is very little housing available, so there is often a very long wait and some people may never get an offer.
If you need somewhere to stay immediately, you should make a homeless application as well as applying to go on the waiting list. Use our emergency housing rights checker to find out whether the council has a duty to provide temporary accommodation for you.
- Are people from abroad eligible?
- Are UK citizens who have been living abroad eligible?
- Can past behaviour be taken into account?
- What can I do if they say I don’t qualify?
- Are people from abroad eligible?
Only certain people from abroad are eligible for council housing. The rules are very complicated if you are not a UK citizen and your rights will depend on your immigration status. The council may contact the Home Office to check your status, so get specialist advice before you apply.
Most people from abroad (including virtually all asylum seekers) do not qualify for council housing. If you are seeking asylum, you may be entitled to help from the UK Border Agency. In some circumstances (for example, if you have children and/or special support needs), you may be able to get help from social services.
However, some people from abroad are eligible. This probably applies to you if you normally live in the UK and:
- you have been granted refugee status
- you have been given either exceptional leave to remain, discretionary leave or humanitarian protection, as long as this status was not given with the condition that you have ‘no recourse to public funds’
- you are from the European Economic Area (the EU plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) and are a classed as a ‘worker’, or are a member of a worker’s family, self-employed, or you have the right to stay here for other reasons. See our page on eligibility for housing and benefits for more information
- you have unconditional leave to remain in the UK (settled status) and are living in the UK, Eire, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man
- you already have a secure, introductory or assured tenancy with a council or housing association, and are applying for a transfer
- you came to the UK from Montserrat after the 1995 volcanic eruption.
- Immigration law is extremely complicated, so get advice before you apply if you are not sure of your status.
Are UK citizens who have been living abroad eligible?
You may not be eligible to apply for council housing immediately if you have been living outside the UK, Eire, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man for a lengthy period. This is because councils can only provide housing for people who are classed as ‘habitually resident’. When they assess your application, the council will decide whether you are habitually resident, and will look at things like:
- where you live
- where you work
- where you have family or friends
- the reasons why you have come to live in the area
- where you intend to live in future
- whether you have been ‘habitually resident’ in the past.
- If the council says that you’re not habitually resident, get advice. This decision could also affect your entitlement to benefits such as income support, jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefit, as well as your rights to housing. You may be able to challenge the decision but you may need help. The rules are complicated.
You should also consider making a fresh application a few months after you return to the UK to settle. In some cases, you will become habitually resident immediately, but in some cases you will need to have lived back in the UK for three to six months.
Can past behaviour be taken into account?
You will not be eligible to go on the housing register if the council decides that you, or any member of your household, are guilty of serious unacceptable behaviour. This may happen if they decide that you have done something serious enough to make you unsuitable to be a council tenant.
Alternatively, they may agree to put you on the housing register, but not give you any priority when deciding who to house.
When they assess your behaviour, the council can look at anything that would mean that, if you were a council tenant, they would be able to take you to court and get an outright possession order to evict you. This may be the case if:
- you have a history of serious rent arrears
- you have broken a tenancy agreement in the past
- you have caused nuisance or annoyance to your neighbours
- you have used a property for illegal or immoral purposes (such as drug dealing or prostitution)
- you have been guilty of domestic violence
- you have allowed the condition of a previous home, or furniture provided by a previous landlord, to deteriorate
- you have lied in order to obtain a tenancy agreement
- you have arranged to exchange your home with another tenant for money.
- If the council tells you that you are not eligible or will be given no priority for any of these reasons, get advice – you may be able to appeal against their decision. An adviser can look into your situation and may be able to help you show the council that what happened was not your fault, was outside of your control, or was not serious enough to mean that they should decide you are not eligibl
What can I do if they say I don’t qualify?
If you are in one of the situations outlined above, the council has no obligation to offer you a home and is very unlikely to do so. In most areas, they will refuse to consider you for an allocation of housing. If this happens you should get advice to see if you can challenge the decision. An adviser may be able to help you put together your case and explain whether any of the following options might be appropriate:
Asking the council to review their decision
You can ask the council to look at your application again and review their decision if you think their original decision was wrong. This might be worthwhile if you think your behaviour was not serious enough to mean you’re not eligible, or it happened so long ago that it shouldn’t count.
Making a fresh application
You can make a new application if your circumstances change. This may be worthwhile if:
your immigration status changes after a time in the UK
you have paid off past rent arrears
you have not behaved in an unacceptable way for a long time.
Challenging the council by judicial review
This may be an option if the council didn’t follow the correct legal procedure when they made a decision about your application. For example, they may have ignored relevant information, such as how long you have been in the UK, or took things that shouldn’t affect their decision, such as non-housing debts, into account.
Judicial review is a complicated legal process, which is used to challenge decisions made by public bodies, including councils. You will need specialist help from a solicitor if you want to challenge the council by judicial review.