Your eligibility for council housing depends on your citizenship or immigration status. The council can't allow you onto the waiting list or housing register if you are not eligible.
What are the rules?
You are usually eligible to apply for council housing if you are:
- a British citizen
- a citizen who has the right to stay in the UK for an unlimited time.
The law says a council must allow you to apply for a council home if you:
- are legally classed as homeless
- live in insanitary or overcrowded accommodation
- need to move because of a disability or on medical, welfare or hardship grounds.
Councils also set local rules based on factors such as your local connection to an area.
A council will refuse to allow you onto its waiting list or housing register if you are not eligible for council housing because of your immigration status.
You are eligible 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 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.
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
If you are not eligible to apply for council housing immediately, you may qualify after you've been back in the UK for a few months.
Read Shelter's factsheet Habitual Residence Test for more information.
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 are not allowed onto the housing register or waiting list for a council home if you are from abroad, subject to UK immigration control and have a short-term or limited right to stay.
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 council 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.
If you try, you could be reported to UKVI and possibly removed or deported.
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:
If the council says you can't apply
You can challenge the council's decision to turn your application down. You could ask the council to review its decision or make a fresh application for council housing.
If you are not sure about your immigration rights, get advice from an immigration solicitor or an immigration adviser registered with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner. Do this before you apply for council housing, help as a homeless person or benefits.
Get help if you're homeless now
You can make a homeless application if you have nowhere to stay now. The council may help you with emergency accommodation. You can also apply to go on the council housing waiting list if you are eligible.
Use Shelter's advice services directory to find an adviser or law centre.