Priority for council housing

By law, councils must give priority for social housing to certain groups of people. Councils are 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 looks at whether you are:

  • eligible to apply for council housing
  • a qualifying person

If you are eligible and qualifying, you can join the council's waiting list or housing register.

To decide how much priority you get, the council looks 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 

Check the rules for housing in different council areas. They vary from area to area. It may be easier for you to get housed in one area rather than another.

Many councils produce leaflets that explain their policy. You can find these at the council's housing office, in libraries or community centres or online.

Waiting time for a council home

Your chances of getting a home and how long this 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

The council you apply to may operate a choice-based lettings scheme. This means you must register your interest in available properties rather than wait for an offer to be made to you.

The council should tell you what your chances are of getting a council or housing association home in its area. It should give you an idea of how long this may take. Some councils award 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.

How much priority you get may depend on why you had to leave your last home, if you are classed as being in priority need and whether you have a local connection to the area.

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. Tell the council how your health problems are affected by where you live. Explain the difficulties the medical condition or disability causes. 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 an 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

The council must give you additional preference on the waiting list if you are already in one of the reasonable preference priority groups and 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

Extra priority for urgent housing needs

The council can give you additional preference on its housing waiting list if you are in one of the reasonable preference priority groups and you are:

  • 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 or who benefit the community, for example through employment or voluntary work. 

They can also give more priority to someone who has a local connection.

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