How councils allocate housing

A council's allocations policy sets out who can get council or housing association housing in its area.

How council homes are allocated

Councils usually allocate council and housing association homes through:

Your council might use either system or a combination of both.

In some areas, you can apply directly to local housing associations and ask to go on their waiting lists. Ask your council for details of any housing associations operating separate waiting lists in your area.

What is a council housing allocation scheme?

Each council has its own allocations policy or scheme.

A council's housing allocation scheme should tell you:

  • who can apply to go on the council's waiting list
  • which groups of people get priority for housing
  • how long you have to live in an area to get on the housing waiting list
  • the size of property you will be considered for

Where to find a council's allocation policy

Your council should have its allocations policies on its website.

Find your council's website.

Leaflets explaining the allocations policy are usually available at libraries and council offices.

The council's housing department or information service can help you find information.

Who gets priority for housing

All councils must give reasonable preference for housing to people who:

Reasonable preference means you are given some priority on the waiting list.

It does not always mean that you will be treated as a high or urgent priority.

Waiting time for council housing

Council and housing association homes are usually in short supply.

It can take years to get housed. Some people never get a council or housing association home.

Your chances of getting a home depend on:

  • the amount of social housing in your area
  • your priority on the waiting list
  • the type and size of home you want
  • the housing needs of other people on the waiting list

If you need to move home quickly, you should consider other options such as renting privately or applying as homeless.

Number of housing offers

The number of properties you are considered for depends on your council's policy.

If your council runs a choice based lettings scheme, ask how many properties you can bid for in one go. Some councils expect you to accept any property you successfully bid for if the property is suitable for your needs.

If your council makes direct offers, you must wait until the council says a home is available for you. Some councils will only make one suitable offer but others will make more offers.

You may be suspended from the council housing register for a period if you turn down a suitable offer so check the policy before refusing an offer.

Suitable and unsuitable housing

The housing you're offered should be suitable for you and people living with you.

The council looks at practical issues such as:

  • the property's location and condition
  • if the property is the right size for your household
  • if you have mobility problems

The council should also consider whether the accommodation is close enough to support services you need or special schools.

The council should not offer you accommodation in an area that is likely to put you at risk of racial harassment or domestic abuse.

How to challenge unsuitable offers

You may be able to challenge the council's decision if you think the housing you've been offered is unsuitable.

In many areas council housing is in short supply. There is no guarantee you'll be offered something better.

Get help from a housing adviser

Get advice if you want to challenge an offer or if you think your priority or needs haven't been properly assessed.

Last updated 06 Oct 2016 | © Shelter

If you need to talk to someone, we’ll do our best to help

Get help

Was this advice helpful?

Related advice

Email a link to this article

Thank you - your message has been sent.

Sorry! - your message has not been sent this time.

Was this advice helpful?

Thank you - your feedback has been submitted to the team.

Sorry! - your message has not been sent this time.