Most council tenants are secure tenants, unless you have an introductory or demoted tenancy or your accommodation is temporary or provided as part of your job.
What is a secure tenancy
Most council tenants who live in self-contained accommodation are secure tenants.
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 is responsible for most repairs to your home. It should consult you about how your home is managed.
Council tenancies that aren't secure
You won't be a secure tenant 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
Written tenancy agreements
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.
The council 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.
You can be evicted for:
- 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
Rules on rent and rent increases
Check 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 rules on when the rent can be increased. The council should give you written notice before it can increase the rent. 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.
You could lose your home if you get into rent arrears.
Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre. An adviser can check if you're claiming everything you are entitled to.
Responsibility for repairs
The council should give you information about what repairs you are responsible for.
You are usually responsible for repairs to internal decoration and fixing any damage you cause.
The council is usually responsible for most other repairs, including any problems with the roof, guttering, windows, doors and brickwork. It 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 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.
Improvements to your home
You must have written permission from the council if you want to make improvements to your home.
The council 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 in a secure tenancy
You automatically have the right to take in a lodger.
You can usually rent a part of your home to a subtenant (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.
Your benefits could be reduced if someone else moves into your home. This happens even if the person doesn't pay you any rent and usually also applies to family members.
Subletting in a secure tenancy
You are not allowed to rent the whole of your home to someone else, whether you intend to return or not.
You could lose your home if you move out and rent it to someone else.
If you move out you could lose your secure status. The council could end your tenancy very easily and anyone living there will be evicted.
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.
Use Shelter's directory to find details of how and where to ask about buying your home.
Succession in joint tenancies
The rules for a joint tenancy mean that the other joint tenant automatically takes over the tenancy if you die.
Succession to a secure tenancy
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 they have 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, as long as they have 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.
Find out more about assigning a tenancy.
Secure tenancies transfers
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. Ask you council for information about the rules.
You are more likely to be offered a transfer if your home isn't suitable for you. You might have to wait a long time for somewhere suitable, especially if you need a large property.
Find out more about transfers.
Secure tenancies exchanges
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.
Find out more about mutual exchange.
Buying your council home
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.
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
Find out more about the right to buy scheme.
You might be allowed to buy your home if you live in sheltered housing where services are provided or your home has been adapted for special needs.
Home ownership schemes
Some councils also operate other schemes to help tenants get on the property ladder.
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.
Find out more about home ownership schemes.
Tenants involvement in management decisions
The council has to consult you about decisions that affect you.
The council 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 to get more involved management decisions.
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
Use the council's official complaints procedure if you feel that the council isn't treating you fairly or has failed to fulfil its responsibilities.
You can complain further to the Housing Ombudsman Service if you're not happy with the response you receive.