Who is eligible to apply for council housing?

Find out about residence and immigration conditions that affect who is eligible to apply for a council or housing association home.  

What do the eligibility rules mean?

All councils have a housing register or waiting list for people who want to apply for a council or housing association home in the area.

You must be eligible to apply. This is about your residence or immigration status. 

There are different conditions for: 

  • British and Irish citizens
  • other EU citizens
  • people from outside the EU 

You can't always get on the waiting list even if you're eligible to apply. Each council also has their own local rules.

British and Irish citizens  

You can apply to the housing register if you're classed as 'habitually resident' in the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man. 

Habitual residence means you're settled here for the foreseeable future.

If you've lived abroad in the last 2 years

The council will decide if you're habitually resident. 

You can be habitually resident as soon as you arrive if either:

  • you lived here before and have returned to resettle
  • you've been deported back to the UK from another country

You can show an intention to resettle by looking for work, arranging school places and registering with a GP.

Most people are accepted as habitually resident within 3 months of arrival. In some areas you still won't qualify for council housing because of local rules.  

The rules for Irish citizens won't change when the UK leaves the EU.

Other EU citizens

You can apply to the housing register if you have any of the following types of residence status:

  • settled status  
  • worker or self employed status
  • permanent residence - often gained after living in the UK for 5 years

If you're not working

To have worker or self employed status, you must have worked in the UK.

You usually keep this status and remain eligible for council housing if any of the following apply:  

  • you can't work temporarily because of illness or accident
  • you've stopped work but registered with Jobcentre Plus to find another job
  • you're pregnant or recently gave birth and intend to return to work within a year  

You may also be eligible if a child who lives with you is at school in the UK. Your child must have lived in the UK while you or their other parent had EU worker status. 

After Brexit

These rules continue to apply after Brexit until 31 December 2020.

After that date, you may need settled status in the UK to be eligible to apply for council housing.   

Find out more about staying in the UK after Brexit from Citizens Advice

People from outside the EU

You're often eligible to apply for council housing if you have a long term or indefinite right to live in the UK. Your leave to remain must allow 'recourse to public funds'.

These types of immigration status usually count: 

  • indefinite leave to remain (ILR)
  • refugee status or humanitarian protection
  • discretionary leave - if it includes recourse to public funds

You're also eligible if you're a Commonwealth citizen with right of abode as long as you're habitually resident in the UK.

No recourse to public funds

You're not eligible for council housing in the UK if your immigration status means you have no recourse to public funds.

This restriction affects overseas students, work permit holders, visitors and some other types of limited leave to remain. 

You can't apply for council housing if you're an asylum seeker but you may qualify for asylum support.

Challenge a council decision

You can ask for a review if the council say you're not eligible to go on the housing register and you think the decision is wrong.

Still need help?

Use GOV.UK to find local advice services who can help you apply to the EU settlement scheme if you need support with this. 

Get immigration advice before applying for council housing if you're unsure of your immigration status or don't have the documents to prove it.


Last updated 28 January 2020 | © Shelter

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

Get help

Related advice

Get the government to build more social housing

You have the power to make sure they provide affordable housing for all those who need it

Sign the petition Sign the petition

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.