Secure council tenancies

Secure council tenants can only be evicted in certain situations. You can take in a lodger and may be able to pass on your tenancy, get a transfer, exchange your home or buy it at a discount. The council has to do most repairs and should consult you about how your home is managed.

It is important to remember that this information only applies to secure council tenants. You have very different rights if you have a different type of council tenancy.

Definition of a secure tenancy

Most council tenants who live in self-contained accommodation are secure tenants. However, some people who rent from the council are not:

  • If your tenancy started less than a year ago you may be an introductory tenant. This is a trial tenancy and means you can be evicted more easily
  • If you live in temporary accommodation that the council arranged because you were homeless, you do not have a council tenancy but you should get priority on the waiting list. If you are offered a permanent council tenancy, it will be either an introductory tenancy or a secure tenancy
  • If you had a secure tenancy but it has been demoted because of antisocial behaviour, you will have a demoted tenancy for one year. This gives you similar rights to an introductory tenancy, so you can be evicted very easily
  • If you work for the council and your home comes with your job, you are probably a service occupier and have very different rights to other tenants

The council should give you a written tenancy agreement explaining the rights and responsibilities you have as a tenant. This agreement should say:

  • what kind of tenancy you have
  • what your rights and responsibilities are
  • when you can be evicted
  • how repairs should be carried out
  • how much rent you have to pay, when you have to pay it and when it can be increased

The council can't change the basic conditions of your tenancy without getting written agreement from you first, although it can increase the rent if it follows the correct procedure.

Council eviction of secure tenants

You have the right to live in your home indefinitely, as long as the council doesn't start legal proceedings to evict you. The council can only evict you by following the correct procedure and getting a court order. It has to give you written notice and prove a legal reason why you should be evicted before it can get a court order. The most common reasons for eviction include:

  • not paying the rent
  • causing nuisance to neighbours
  • using the property for illegal activities such as drug dealing
  • moving out of your home or renting it to someone else

Get advice immediately if the council threatens to evict you for any reason. Use Shelter's directory to find a face-to-face adviser in your area.

Even if the bailiffs are due, it may still be possible to get the eviction stopped or delayed. An adviser can check whether you have broken the rules and may be able to help you put things right, for example, by claiming benefits or settling a disagreement with neighbours. Some advisers can also help you put together the legal arguments you will need for a defence.

What are the rules on rent and rent increases?

Secure tenants' rents are usually lower than private landlords would charge for the same kind of property. Read your tenancy agreement to see what it says about how the rent should be paid. Your council will occasionally give you rent statements, showing how much rent was due and how much rent was paid.

There are also rules on when the rent can be increased. The council should give you written notice before it can put the rent up. If you pay your rent weekly, it should give you at least four weeks' notice. It's usually very difficult to challenge council rent increases, even if they seem unfair.

Your rent should always be your top financial priority as you could lose your home if you get into rent arrears. If you have a low income, you may be able to claim housing benefit to help with the cost. An adviser can check whether you're claiming everything you are entitled to.

Who is responsible for repairs?

The council should give you information about what repairs you are responsible for, which usually includes internal decoration and fixing any damage you cause. It is usually responsible for most other repairs, including any problems with the roof, guttering, windows, doors and brickwork. The council must also make sure that your electricity, plumbing and gas are working safely.

Report  any repair problems to the council immediately. It should have a 24-hour service for emergencies and proper procedures for carrying out any work involved.

Get advice if the repairs aren't carried out, or are done badly. It may be possible to force the council to do the work needed or get it done yourself and claim the cost back from the council. You must follow the correct procedure to do this. Do not stop paying the rent as you could risk being evicted.

You must have written permission from the council if you want to make improvements to your home. It can't refuse certain improvements without a good reason. If you give up your home later on, you may be able to get compensation for money you have spent on improving it, up to a maximum of £3,000.

Lodgers or subletting in a secure tenancy

You automatically have the right to take in a lodger and can normally sublet part of your home (such as a bedroom) if you get written permission from the council first. The council can only refuse permission if it has a good reason, for example, if your home would become overcrowded if someone else moved in.

Any benefits you claim may be reduced if someone else moves into your home. This will be the case even if the person doesn't pay you any rent and usually also applies to family members.

If you move out you could lose your secure status and the council could end your tenancy very easily. It is possible to spend time living somewhere else though and still keep your tenancy. To do this you must be able to show that you are planning to return, for example, by leaving your personal belongings at home. If you need to spend time living elsewhere, get advice before you move out.

You are not allowed to rent the whole of your home to someone else, whether you intend to return or not. If you do this you could lose your home altogether and anyone living there will be evicted.

Succession to a secure tenancy

The rules for a joint tenancy mean that the other joint tenant will automatically take over the tenancy if you die. But if you are the only tenant, there are rules about who the tenancy can be passed on to. The legal process is called succession and can only happen once, unless your tenancy agreement allows for more than one succession.

For tenancies that started before 1st April 2012, your tenancy can be passed on to your spouse or civil partner, as long as s/he has been living in your home at the time of your death. If you are not married or registered as a civil partner, your partner or another member of your family may be able to take over the tenancy instead, providing s/he has been living with you for at least one year.

If your tenancy began after 1st April 2012, family members (other than your spouse, civil partner or cohabitee) are no longer allowed to succeed, unless your tenancy agreement allows for this.

Assignment of a secure tenancy

Secure tenants can pass their tenancy to any person who would be eligible to take on the tenancy by succession. This process is called assignment. This includes couples who aren't married or registered as civil partners. The correct process must followed to assign a tenancy, or you could still be responsible for paying the rent and the new tenant could be evicted.

Secure tenancies transfers or exchanges 

It may be possible to get a transfer to another property owned by the council or a housing association. Most councils have a waiting list for tenants who want a transfer and can give you information about the rules. You are more likely to be offered a transfer if your home isn't suitable for you. Even if this is the case, you may have to wait a long time for somewhere suitable, especially if you need a large property.

Alternatively, you may be able to swap homes by mutual exchange with another tenant, possibly in another part of the country. You must both have permission from your landlords and the exchange must be arranged properly. Otherwise, you could both lose your homes.

The landlord can only withhold permission for certain reasons. It's essential to get advice about the paperwork and check whether you would have a different type of tenancy (which might give you fewer rights) after the exchange.

Buying your council home and other ownership schemes

If you have been a council tenant for at least five years, you can probably buy the home you currently rent at a discount under the right to buy scheme. There are some exceptions though, for example, it may not be possible if you live in sheltered housing where services are provided or your home has been adapted for special needs.

How much discount you get usually depends on:

  • how long you've been a council tenant (including any time spent as an introductory tenant but not time spent as a demoted tenant)
  • whether the property is a house or a flat
  • the age and condition of the property
  • the area of the country you live in

Some councils also operate other schemes to help tenants get on the property ladder. You may be able to buy a place through a HomeBuy or a cash incentive scheme.

Ask the council or an advice centre for information about what is available to buy in your area.

Use Shelter's directory to find details of how and where to ask about buying your home.

Tenants involvement in management decisions

The council has to consult you about decisions that affect you. It should take your views into account when it makes decisions about the management of your home. This includes any decisions about whether your building (or estate) or all the council properties in your area should be sold to a housing association. You might be able to join a tenants' association or committee.

However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the council will always act on your wishes. Ask the council for more information about how you can get involved and how final decisions will be made.

Complaints about council homes and secure tenancies

If you feel that the council isn't treating you fairly or has failed to fulfil its responsibilities, you can complain using their official complaints procedure. You can complain further to the Housing Ombudsman Service if you're not happy with the response you receive.

Find out more about making a complaint.