How to apply for council housing

How long does it take to get a council home?

The council must provide information about your chances of getting a home and how long this is likely to take if you ask them to.

How long you have to wait depends on:

  • your priority band or points

  • how many homes are available

  • the number of people on the waiting list with higher priority than you

  • how flexible you can be about the type of property and areas you will live in

There is a shortage of council and housing association homes in most areas.

You could be on the register for months or sometimes years even if you're in a priority group. You might not get a home if you are low priority.

Find out about other housing options while you're on the waiting list.

Check if you're in a priority group

Your council's allocation policy sets out who gets priority on the waiting list.

By law, some groups of people must get 'reasonable preference'. This means people in these groups must get some priority for council and housing association homes.

You must be given reasonable preference if you:

  • are homeless or fleeing violence

  • live in overcrowded or very bad housing conditions

  • need to move for health or welfare reasons

Some councils also give some priority or points to other groups. For example, people who need rehousing because of local regeneration schemes.

Find out how to move up the waiting list if your situation changes or you've been given the wrong level of priority or points.

If you are or become homeless

The council must give you some priority on the housing register if you are legally homeless.

This includes when you're at risk of domestic abuse or violence in your home.

It applies to homeless families as well as single people or couples without children.

Living in overcrowded conditions

You must get some priority if your home is officially overcrowded.

Some councils use the ‘bedroom standard’ to decide if a home is overcrowded. You are overcrowded under the bedroom standard unless there is a bedroom in your home for each:

  • adult couple

  • single adult aged 21 or over

  • pair of adolescents aged 10 to 20 of the same sex

  • pair of children under 10 of any sex

Some councils use a different legal measure of overcrowding, called statutory overcrowding.

Check your council’s policy to see what measure of overcrowding they use.

Living in very bad or dangerous conditions

You will get more priority for council housing if your home:

  • needs urgent repairs or is in a very bad condition

  • is unsanitary - for example, has bad drains or sewerage problems

  • lacks basic washing and cooking facilities

You get more points or a higher band if the council decides your home is in such bad condition that it is dangerous or a health risk.

If you're renting privately, contact the environmental health team at the council. An inspection and report from environmental health could increase your priority.

Need to move for health or welfare reasons

You must get some priority if you need to move for health or welfare reasons.

For example, if you or anyone in your household needs:

  • sheltered housing for older people

  • supported housing because of a learning disability

  • adapted or accessible housing because of a physical disability

  • a larger home because you're a foster carer or looking after someone else's children

You should tell the council if:

  • mobility problems make it difficult to get around your home

  • a physical or mental health condition is made worse by where you live

  • a doctor, healthcare worker or social worker can support your application

If you need to live in a particular area

You should get some priority if you need to live in an area to avoid hardship.

For example if:

  • your child attends a special school locally

  • you need to be close to a relative to give or receive care

  • you're leaving care and need to be close to your support

Members of the armed forces

By law, you must be given 'additional preference' on the waiting list if you're in any of the situations above and any of the following apply:

  • you have previously served in the regular armed forces

  • you are in the regular or reserve forces and are seriously injured, ill or disabled because of your service

  • you must leave forces accommodation after the death in service of your husband, wife or civil partner

This should mean that you will be offered a council or housing association home quickly.

Other urgent housing needs

Your council may also give extra priority to some people with very urgent housing needs.

For example, if you need to move because of:

  • a life threatening illness or sudden disability

  • overcrowding or disrepair which puts your health at serious risk

  • violence or threats, including domestic abuse, witness intimidation or serious antisocial behaviour

If you're not in a priority group

You may still get a council or housing association home but it will probably take longer.

Many councils give extra priority based on how long you’ve been on the register.

Some give extra priority to people with a good tenancy record, working people or those doing voluntary work.

If you're on the housing register for a long time the council will sometimes send you a form to check you want to stay on the waiting list. Always reply to keep your place on the list.

Last updated: 9 September 2021

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