Who is allowed to apply for council housing?

You can usually apply for council housing if you are a British citizen. You may not be allowed to apply if you are from another country, or if you are a British or EEA citizen who has been living abroad. 

Who can apply for council housing

Councils decide who to accept onto the waiting list in their area, but can't accept you if the law says you are not eligible for housing.

You can apply if you are a British citizen or a citizen from another country with the right to stay in the UK and you have no restrictions on how long you can stay.

You probably won't be allowed to apply if you have a limited right to stay or no recourse to public funds.

Find out who gets priority for council housing.

British citizens

You can apply for council housing if you are a British citizen living in the UK permanently and you have not lived abroad recently.

British citizens who have been living abroad

Councils can only provide housing for people who are classed as habitually resident in the UK.

You may be affected by the habitual residence test if you are a British citizen who has been living outside the UK, Eire (Republic of Ireland), the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man for a lengthy period.

You may not be eligible to apply for council housing immediately, but may qualify after you've been back in the UK for a few months.

To assess whether you're habitually resident in the UK, the council considers:

  • where you live and work
  • where your family or friends are
  • the reasons why you have come to live in the area
  • where you intend to live in future
  • if you have been habitually resident in the UK in the past

You will not be allowed to apply for council housing if the council decides you're not habitually resident.

Read Shelter's factsheet Habitual Residence Test for more.

The habitual residence decision could also affect your entitlement to benefits such as income support, jobseeker's allowance and housing benefit. 

People with a long-term or indefinite right to stay

 You may be eligible for council housing if you normally live in the UK and you:

  • have indefinite leave to remain in the UK (settled status) and live in the UK, Eire, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man
  • are a worker from the European Economic Area (EEA) (the EU plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein)
  • are a self employed EEA worker or a member of an EEA worker's family
  • have refugee status
  • have exceptional leave to remain, discretionary leave or humanitarian protection, as long as your immigration status doesn't specify that you should have no recourse to public funds

People with a short term or limited right to stay

You can't normally apply for a council home if you are from abroad and subject to UK immigration control. You probably won't be eligible if:

  • you have a visitor or student visa
  • your conditions of stay specify that you are not entitled to recourse to public funds

Asylum seekers don't qualify for council housing. You may be entitled to help from UK Visas and Immigration. If you have children, a disability or special support needs, you may be able to get help from social services.

People with no right to stay

You can't apply for a council home if you entered the UK unlawfully and have not been granted any leave to remain here or if you have overstayed your visa. You risk being reported to UKVI and possible removal or deportation if you try.

People from abroad applying for a transfer

Regardless of your nationality or immigration status, you can apply for a transfer to another council or housing association home if you already have a:

Immigration advice

Get advice from an immigration solicitor or an immigration adviser registered with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner if you are not sure about your status and rights. 

Do this before you apply for council housing, help as a homeless person or welfare benefits.

If the council says you can't apply

Get advice if the council says it has no obligation to offer you council housing. An adviser may be able to help you:

  • ask the council to review its decision. 
  • make a fresh application for council housing

You can make a new application for council housing if your circumstances or immigration status changes 

A housing solicitor or law centre could help you challenge the council by judicial review. This may be an option if the council didn't follow the correct legal procedure when deciding your application. 

Use Shelter's advice services directory to find a face-to-face adviser or law centre near you.

If you're homeless now

If you have nowhere to stay now, you can make a homeless application and apply to go on the council housing waiting list if you are allowed to apply. 

If you are single and not eligible for help as a homeless person, you may be able to get a place in a nightshelter. Find out where you can get help if you are a homeless EU or EEA national.

Find out more about benefits from Gov.uk .

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