By law, councils must give priority for social housing to certain groups of people. But each council is also free to decide who else gets priority in their area.
How councils decide priority for social housing
Before a council decides how much priority to give you for social housing in its area, it first decides if you are eligible to apply for council housing and whether you are a qualifying person. If you are, you join the council's waiting list or housing register.
The council decides how much priority you get by looking at how its housing allocations policy applies to you. Each council decides its own allocations policy. By law, a council's allocations policy must give priority to certain groups of people. This is called reasonable preference.
Each council can also decide who else gets priority within its area. Councils can decide to give extra priority to people who have lived in the area for a certain length of time or to people who are working.
Most councils use a points or a banding system to award you higher or lower priority.
Find out about a local council's housing policy
It's important to look at what the rules are for housing in different council areas. They vary from area to area, so it may be easier for you to get housed in one area rather than another.
Many councils produce leaflets that summarise their policy. You can find these at the council's housing office, in libraries or community centres.
Waiting time for a council home
Your chances of getting a home and how long it takes depend on:
- availability of social housing in the council's area
- levels of demand for social housing
- your level of priority or preference
- how flexible you can be in terms of type of property and areas you would consider
If the council you apply to operates a choice-based lettings scheme you may have to be proactive and register your interest in vacant properties rather than just wait for an offer to be made.
The council should be able to tell you what your chances are of getting a council or housing association home in its area and give some indication of how long this may take. Some councils will award some extra points or preference for waiting time.
Priority if you are homeless
The council must give you reasonable preference on its waiting list or housing register if you are legally classed as homeless.
Priority if you are living in poor conditions
The council must give you reasonable preference for social housing if your home:
- is in serious disrepair
- is unsanitary, for example it doesn't have proper drainage and sewerage
- lacks basic washing and cooking facilities
There is usually a scale of priority for poor conditions.You get more points or a higher band if the council decides that your home is in such bad condition that it is dangerous or potentially damaging to your health.
To decide how much priority you should get for council housing, the council visits your home to inspect it and assess how bad the conditions are.
Priority if you have a medical condition
You may get reasonable preference if anyone in your household has physical or mental health problems that are made worse by where you live, or mobility problems that make it difficult to get around your home.
When you apply for council housing, give as much information as possible about any health problems and how they are affected by where you are living. Explain the difficulties the medical condition or disability causes. Give as much detail as you can. Include details of any doctor, health worker or social worker who can support your application.
The council normally asks a doctor, health visitor or other expert to assess your medical problems. This may be an independent person who does not know you. The council may also contact your GP.
Priority if you need to live in a particular area
You should get reasonable preference on the council housing waiting list or housing register if you need to live in a particular area for social or welfare reasons.
This may be so you can access support networks in the area. For example if:
- someone in your household attends a special school in the area
- you're leaving care and need to be close to people who can support you
- you need to be close to a relative so they can look after you
You can get also reasonable preference in a area if you need to be there to look after a close relative with health problems.
Having friends or family in the area won't always be enough to give you extra points, but the council may consider it.
Extra priority if you have served in the armed forces
If you are homeless and have urgent housing needs the council must give you additional preference on the waiting list if you are a:
- former member of the regular armed forces
- member of the regular or reserve forces who is suffering from a serious injury, illness or disability related to your service
- bereaved spouse or civil partner who has to leave forces accommodation following your partner's death in service
In practice you should receive the highest priority on the housing register.
Extra priority for urgent housing needs
The council may award you additional preference for urgent housing needs such as being:
- at risk of domestic abuse in your current home
- a witness or victim of crime and at risk of intimidation
- harassed, threatened or attacked in the local area because of your race or sexuality
Extra priority for those with general housing needs
Councils are encouraged to give greater priority to people who:
- have a good record as a tenant
- benefit the community (eg: through employment or voluntary work)
- have a local connection