Who is eligible to apply for council housing?

Eligibility for a council or housing association home depends on your nationality, immigration status and if you've recently lived abroad.

What does eligibility mean?

The council can only allow you onto their housing register or waiting list if you're eligible to apply.

You're eligible if you're a British and Irish citizen who is 'habitually resident' in the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man. Habitual residence means you're settled here for the foreseeable future.

Many other EU nationals and some people from outside the EU are also eligible but it depends on your immigration or residence status.

Even if you're eligible to apply, you might not be able to go on the housing register because each council has their own local rules about who qualifies in their area.

British and Irish citizens - habitual residence 

If you've returned from living abroad within the last 2 years, the council decide if you're habitually resident. 

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

  • you were previously resident and have returned to resettle
  • you've been deported back to the UK from another country

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

Most British citizens 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.  

Other EU citizens

You're eligible to apply for council housing if you have these types of residence status:

  • permanent residence - often gained after living in the UK for 5 years  
  • worker or self-employed status - including where you keep this status even though you're not working now  

If you're not working

You might keep your worker status and remain eligible for council housing if you're:  

  • unable to work temporarily because of illness or accident
  • registered with Jobcentre Plus and looking for work after losing your job
  • pregnant or recently given birth and intend to return to work (or start jobseeking) within a year  

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

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 foreign students, work-permit holders, visitors and some other types of limited leave to remain. 

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

Challenging a council decision

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

Still need help?

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 06 Feb 2019 | © Shelter

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