How to apply for council housing

Your application for a council home can also cover housing association or housing co-operative homes in the council's local area.

Council allocations schemes

An allocations scheme sets out a council's rules for deciding who to house. Local councils can decide who gets priority for housing, so allocations schemes vary. Every local council has its own allocations scheme for council housing in its area.

An allocations scheme usually sets out:

Councils can give extra priority to people who already live in their area.

How to choose which council to apply to

You can apply to any council you choose. You do not have to be living in a council's area to apply. Look at the allocations policies of a number of councils.

You may find that you can register for housing in more than one area or that you qualify to go on the waiting list in one area but not another.

Use the Council Finder to find details of councils you are interested in applying to.

Information about applying for council housing

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Councils must by law provide free information on:

  • how to make an application
  • who can apply for council housing
  • how priority between applicants is decided
  • the procedures followed when considering an application
  • what happens when a suitable property becomes available

Councils usually have information about applying for housing on their websites. The council's housing department usually has a leaflet explaining how the system works.

How to make an application for council housing

Most councils have application forms on their websites. You can also get an application form from a council's housing department. Any information you give is kept confidential.

The information you provide helps the council decide if you are eligible to apply for a council home and how much priority you should get.

Give the council as much information as possible so that it can assess your application properly Explain in detail any special needs, difficulties or problems you or your family are having. The council may ask for the contact details of anyone who can support your application such as a doctor, solicitor, social worker or probation officer.

Enclose copies of any evidence that you have such as photographs, medical letters, or police incident reports. Take photocopies of important original documents so you have a record.

The application form includes a declaration. You must read, sign and date this to confirm that the information you have provided is true.

What to include in an application

Each council has its own application form. Councils usually ask for the same type of information about you and your family members:

  • the name, age and gender of everyone in your household and how they are related to you
  • your income and the income of any joint applicant
  • where you live now and what facilities and conditions are like there
  • where you have been living for up to the past five years
  • any connections you have with the area  living, working or what family you have in the area

The form asks for reasons you need to move. This could include overcrowding, disrepair, medical reasons, violence or harassment. It could be because your current circumstances make private rented accommodation unaffordable.

Tell the council what type of housing you need. Say what size, location and facilities you need.

Specify any requirements you need to make housing suitable. For example if you have to be on the ground floor because of mobility problems.

Joint applications for housing

It is usually possible for two or more people to apply jointly. Joint applications are often made by married couples, civil partners or people living together.

You cannot apply jointly if your immigration status means  one of you is not eligible to apply for council housing . In this case, the eligible person can still apply. The ineligible person can be included in the application as a member of the household. If the application is successful, the eligible person is likely to be offered a sole tenancy.

Each joint tenant is individually responsible for paying the rent, so if one joint tenant doesn't pay the rent, the other has to.

Both tenants can be held responsible if one of you breaks the tenancy agreement or causes nuisance to the neighbours.

If you have a joint tenancy and separate from your partner, neither of you can be forced to leave without a court order. You have equal rights to live in the property until a court decides what should happen to your home.

Choice about where to live

Councils don't have to allow you choice or to express a preference but many do. The council's allocations scheme should set out the council's policy on choice and preference.

Councils may allow you to bid for individual properties that you are interested in, or say which areas you would prefer to live in when you apply.

This doesn't mean you can choose the neighbourhood where you want to live. There is usually a longer wait in popular areas. 

Get help with making an application

Councils have a legal responsibility to 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 you with your application 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.

Keep your application up to date

Changes in your circumstances can affect how much priority you have. Inform the council if your circumstances change, for example if you have a new child or have moved home. 

Keep in touch with your council and keep track of your place on the waiting list.

In many areas, the council sends you a letter each year asking if you still want to be considered for housing. If you don't reply, your name could be removed from the list.

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

If the council accepts your application

When the council assesses your application, it decides if you can go on its allocation list or housing register. If you can, it decides what priority you have for housing.

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

If you are accepted onto the waiting list, it does not mean you will be offered a home. If or when you get a home depends on how much housing the council has and  what priority you have for housing.

Find out what happens if you are offered council housing.

If the council refuses your application

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 this happens. You may be able to:

  • ask the council to review their decision
  • reapply when your circumstances have changed (for example if you have a history of rent arrears but you have since paid them off)
  • get the decision changed by judicial review (you will need help to do this)

An adviser can explain these options in more detail, and may be able to help you with any legal issues.

Use Shelter's directory to find a housing adviser in your local area.

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