How to apply for council housing

You'll be considered for a council or housing association home if you apply to a council for housing.

Choose which council to apply to

You can apply to any council. Some councils may say you need a local connection to the area. This means that you must live in an area for a length of time, or work or use special services there.

Check with different councils before you apply. You may qualify for the waiting list in one area but not another because councils allocations rules vary.  

Find out about council housing allocation policies

Waiting lists may be shorter in some areas.

Ask the council how to apply

Contact the council directly for application forms and ask for help to make an application if you need it. Some councils have online application forms.

Most people can apply for a council home. In some cases, your immigration status may mean you are not eligible.

Information to include in your housing application

The information you include helps the council decide if you can apply for a council home and your priority on the waiting list.

Explain in detail any special needs, difficulties or problems you or your family have. For example, you may need a ground floor home if you have mobility problems.

Include relevant information about overcrowding, disrepair, medical problems or disability, violence or harassment. Say if you can't afford a private rented home.

If you have medical or welfare needs, get letters from your doctor or other health professionals to support your application.

Enclose copies of evidence such as photographs, medical letters or police incident reports about any violence you've experienced. Keep photocopies of original documents.

Tell the council where you want to live

Some councils run choice based lettings schemes which means you can choose properties to bid for in areas you are interested in. 

Other councils offer properties directly. There is usually a long wait in popular areas. You may not get the home or area that you want.

Joint applications for social housing

Joint applications can be made by married couples, civil partners or people living together.

You can't apply jointly if your immigration status means one of you isn't eligible for council housing. The eligible person can still apply. The other person can be included as a household member.

Each joint tenant is responsible for the rent. If one joint tenant doesn't pay the rent, the other must. Both tenants can be held responsible if one breaks the tenancy agreement or causes nuisance.

If you separate, neither of you can be forced to leave without a court order.

Council duty to help with your application

Councils must help you with your application if you find it difficult to apply, for example if English is your second language or you find reading difficult.

Get help from a local advice centre if the council refuses to help or you are not happy with the way the council deals with your application.

Use Shelter's directory to find an advice service in your area.

If the council accepts your application for social housing

Your council writes to you with its decision. The council can arrange for you to collect the letter if you don't have an address.

The length of time you must wait for a home depends on your place on the waiting list and the number of available homes in your area.

Some people must wait for years before they receive an offer. You may never be offered a property if your priority is low.

Keep your application up to date

Once you're on the housing waiting list, stay in touch with your council and keep track of your place.

Tell the council if your circumstances change. For example if you have a new child or move home. Changes in your circumstances can affect your priority for council housing.

Your council should contact you each year to ask if you still want to be on the waiting list. Your name may be removed from the list if you don't reply.

If your council has a choice based lettings scheme, you are expected to bid for properties and may be penalised if you don't.

If your application is refused

If the council decides not to accept you onto the waiting list, it must explain the legal reasons for its decision.

Get advice immediately if your council turns your application for council housing down. You can ask the council to review its decision.

You may be able to reapply if your circumstances change, for example if you pay off rent arrears.

Use Shelter's directory to find an advice service in your area.

Sonia's Story: 'I supplied all the information the council needed as soon as I could'

After getting divorced, Sonia had to sell her house which made no profit. It proved hard to find a landlord who would accept housing benefits and she had to apply for a council house. Read Sonia's full story

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