Choice-based lettings

Choice based lettings schemes are designed to introduce an element of choice for people applying for council and housing association homes and existing tenants who want a transfer.

How choice based lettings schemes work

Choice based lettings allow people to bid for properties which become available on a points-based system. Not all councils in England offer a choice-based lettings scheme and rules will vary from one area to another.

In areas where choice based lettings schemes operate, they work as follows:

Step 1 - Available properties are advertised locally

Details of the latest properties will usually be published online and in leaflets or in newsletters from local libraries, housing offices and community centres. Check these regularly and stick to any deadlines for bids.

The list of available properties will say which type of household can bid for each one – ie if it is for an elderly or disabled person, or for a large household.

Step 2 - Bidding stage

You can then bid for a particular property that you like. In most areas you can bid online, by phone, by text or by post. Different councils have different rules about how many properties you can bid for in one go.

Step 3 - Deciding priority

The council’s housing department, or the housing association which is running the scheme then sorts the bids in order of priority, and the person with the highest priority normally gets first refusal on the property. If that person turns the offer down, the next person on the list gets the chance to see it, and so on. In some areas, more than one applicant may be invited to view the property at the same time.

Priority for choice based lettings

All choice based lettings schemes must give priority to certain categories of people – the rules on this are the same as for traditional waiting lists. You may also get additional priority if you are pregnant, have dependent children, have been in care or are vulnerable for other special reasons.

Other factors that can be taken into account include:

  • how long you’ve been waiting for a home
  • your financial circumstances
  • how long you were in your previous home
  • whether you have a history of rent arrears.

If your circumstances change, for example if you are expecting a child, inform your council as soon as possible as your level of priority may well change.

If you need a large home it is normally best to apply for any such homes that are advertised, as vacancies are usually rare. Some councils and housing associations let adjacent homes together, which can be suitable for large extended families who need to live close together.

Priority cards

Some councils will give people with the most urgent need for re-housing a 'priority card'. This will provide you with an advantage when bidding for a particular property. Priority cards usually only last for a certain period of time (eg 12 weeks) but this can be extended.

Choice based lettings for disabled people

It may be necessary to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people so as to prevent anyone from being unfairly disadvantaged by a choice-based lettings scheme. This could include giving certain households extra time to bid, or in some cases providing the information in an accessible format such as Braille, or an audio recording.

Making property accessible can include creating wider doorways, toilets and bathrooms that provide wheelchair access, and kitchen units that are lower to the ground. If there is a lack of specially adapted property available, and one is found that is suitable for adaptation, the council’s housing department should then give additional priority to any disabled applicants who bid for it.

Turning down an offer

If you refuse to accept a property for which you have made a bid, the whole process starts again. However, some schemes will penalise you – ie by taking away some of your priority points – if you turn down several offers, or don't make any bids at all.

If you have been given extra priority because you applied as homeless and you don’t accept a property that you have bid for, you could lose any priority which you were given. If this happens, you will still be able to bid for any future properties that do come up, but will have less chance of getting them as your priority will be lower.

Problems using a choice-based lettings scheme

Councils should take reasonable steps to make choice-based lettings scheme accessible to everyone and give you information to help you understand how the scheme works, especially when you first join.

Councils should provide advice and information to help you understand how the scheme works, especially when you first join. If you have been bidding for properties but don’t seem to get anywhere, you can ask for feedback on why your bid was not successful.

Get advice if you are having problems using a choice-based lettings scheme. An adviser may be able to help you by:

  • increasing your chances of being offered a home,
  • checking whether you’ve been given the right amount of priority and/or
  • challenge a decision that the council has made about your application.

Use Shelter's directory to find face-to-face advice in your local area

Last updated: 1 January 2014