Each council has their own policy about who can apply for council housing in the area. Certain groups cannot be excluded from the housing register by law.
The council's allocations policy
The council must publish a document which explains:
- who can apply for a council or housing association home in the area
- which people get priority on the housing register or waiting list
- how properties are offered to people
This is called an allocations policy or lettings policy. You can usually find the policy or a summary of the rules on the council's website.
Who can't go on the housing register
Some people can't apply for council housing because of their immigration status or because they've recently arrived in the UK.
Most British and Irish citizens, many other EU nationals and some people from outside the EU can apply but check the rules if you think you're affected.
Who must be allowed onto the housing register
Councils must have an allocations policy which allows the following groups of people to apply for a council or housing association home:
- legally homeless people
- those living in overcrowded accommodation or very bad housing conditions
- people who need to move because of a disability, medical, welfare or hardship reasons
If you fall into one of these groups, you can still be individually excluded from the housing register for other reasons.
Example: The council can't refuse to allow all homeless people onto their register. But they may be able to exclude individuals with a history of antisocial behaviour even when homeless.
The council's local rules
Some councils have an open housing register which means anyone can apply as long as they meet the immigration conditions.
Many councils have local rules about who can apply.
Common exclusions from the housing register include people who:
- don't have a local connection to the area
- have previous rent arrears or antisocial behaviour
- own their home or can afford to rent or buy privately
In some areas, only those with a high housing need such as homeless people or people in very unsuitable housing can apply.
Local connection or residence condition
Many councils say you must have lived or worked in the area for a certain time before you can apply for council housing.
The council can't exclude you from the housing register on this basis if you're:
- in the armed forces or have left the forces within the last 5 years
- seriously injured, ill or disabled because you're in the reserve forces
- a bereaved spouse or civil partner leaving forces accommodation following the death in service of your partner
You should also be exempt from a local connection or residence condition if you've fled domestic abuse.
Tenancy transfers from another area
The council must allow you onto the housing register if you need to move to avoid hardship and the following apply:
- you work or have a job offer in the area
- you're a council or housing association tenant in a different area
They can look at the distance and affordability of transport and the type of work you do when considering you for a transfer.
Some councils exclude people with rent arrears from the housing register, especially if you still owe money to the council.
You may still be able to apply if you come to an agreement to pay off your arrears in affordable instalments.
The council may make other exceptions, for example, if your arrears were caused by something outside your control.
Many councils exclude people who have been involved in antisocial behaviour, especially if this had led to an eviction.
You may still be able to apply if you can show that your behaviour has changed or that the person responsible for the behaviour has left your household.
Homeowners are often excluded from the housing register.
But there should be exceptions. You may be able to apply if, for example, you:
- need sheltered or supported accommodation
- can't live in your home following a relationship breakdown
- live in an unsuitable or overcrowded property and are unable to improve the conditions
Income and savings
Some councils won't allow you to join the housing register if your income or savings are above a certain amount.
If the council say you can't apply
You may be able to challenge the council's decision if it turns down your application or does not give you enough priority.
Check the council's allocation policy carefully. It will be published on the council website or available to view at the local office.
Still need help?
If you're homeless, you might get legal aid to help you challenge a decision.
Last updated 07 Feb 2019 | © Shelter
If you need to talk to someone, we’ll do our best to help