Who is eligible to apply for council housing?

Not everyone living in the UK can apply for council housing. You may not be eligible to apply if you are a citizen of another country or even if you are a British citizen who has been living abroad.

New rules mean that councils can decide who they accept onto the waiting list in their area, but a council can't accept you if you are not eligible for housing. Find out if you are eligible.

Who is eligible to apply for council housing?

Because demand for council housing is high, but council houses are in short supply, restrictions are placed on who can apply for council housing. Restrictions also apply to help from the council when homeless and welfare benefits.

You can usually apply for a council home if you are living and settled in the UK and you are a British citizen or a citizen of another country with the right to stay in the UK with no restrictions on how long you can stay.

You can't usually apply for a council home if you are a person from abroad who is subject to immigration control in the UK (for example, on a visitor or student visa or if you have been given permission to stay in the UK for only a fixed amount of time, or your conditions of stay say you are not entitled to have recourse to public funds).

If you are not sure about your immigration status, it is very important that you seek advice from a qualified immigration adviser registered with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner before you apply for council housing, help as a homeless person, or welfare benefits. 

If you are homeless now and need somewhere to stay immediately, you chould make a homeless application and apply to go on the council housing waiting list. But, check first if you are eligible for help as a homeless person,

British citizens

You are eligible to 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

You may not be eligible to apply for council housing immediately 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. This is because councils can only provide housing for people who are classed as 'habitually resident'. You may be affected by the 'habitual residence' test if you have been living abroad for some time and have recently returned to live in the UK.

The council decides if you are 'habitually resident' in the UK. To assess your application, the council will look at things like:

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

If the council says that you're not habitually resident, you will not be allowed to apply for council housing. The council's decision could also affect your entitlement to benefits such as income support, jobseeker's allowance and housing benefit, as well as your rights to housing. You might be able to challenge the decision but you may need help. This is an important time to get advice from a housing adviser.

Read Shelter's factsheet Habitual Residence Test for more information on how the council decides if a homeless applicant is ‘habitually resident’. 

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

In some cases, you may become habitually resident immediately when you return to the UK, but in others you will need to have been back in the UK for three to six months. In this case, you should also consider making a fresh application for council housing a few months after you return to the UK to settle.

People from abroad applying for a council home

Only certain people from abroad are eligible for council housing, the rules can be complicated and depend on immigration status.

 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 are living in the UK, Eire, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man
  • you are worker from the European Economic Area (EEA) (the EU plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein)
  • you are a self employed EEA worker
  • you are a member of an EEA worker's family
  • you have been granted refugee status
  • you have been given either exceptional leave to remain, discretionary leave or humanitarian protection, as long as this status was not given with the condition that you have 'no recourse to public funds'
  • you have been granted a Destitution Domestic Violence concession from UKVI

Most asylum seekers don’t qualify for council housing. If you are seeking asylum, you may be entitled to help from UKVI. In some circumstances, for example, if you have children or special support needs, you may be able to get help from social services.

People from abroad applying for a transfer

If you are a person from abroad and you already have a secure, introductory or assured tenancy with a council or housing association, you are allowed to apply for a transfer to another council or housing association home.

Who gets priority for council housing?

Local councils can now set many of the rules about who can get council housing in their area. Even if you are eligible to apply for a council home, you may find that you don't qualify to be housed by a local council because you are not considered to have enough priority.

Find out more about how council housing waiting lists work.

What you can do if the council says you don't qualify

Get advice if the council says it has no obligation to offer you council housing, as you may be able to challenge the decision. An adviser may be able to help you put together your case and explain whether any of the following options might be appropriate:

  • Ask the council to review its decision. You can ask the council to look at your application again and review their decision if you think it was wrong.
  • Make a fresh application for council housing. You can make a new application for council housing if your circumstances change. This may be worthwhile if your immigration status changes after a time in the UK.
  • 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. For example, the council may have ignored relevant information, such as how long you have been in the UK, or may have taken into account things that shouldn't affect their decision. Judicial review is used to challenge decisions made by public bodies such as councils. You will need legal help from a solicitor.

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