Council housing: immigration and habitual residence conditions

Councils have a housing register or waiting list for people who want to apply for a local council or housing association home.

You must meet immigration and residence conditions to go on the housing register.

The conditions are sometimes called the eligibility rules or the habitual residence test. 

Each council also has their own local rules about who can join.

Who qualifies

You can usually apply for council housing if you have:

  • British or Irish citizenship

  • indefinite leave to remain (ILR)

  • settled status under the EU settlement scheme

  • right of abode as a Commonwealth citizen

  • refugee status or humanitarian protection

  • a visa that allows you recourse to public funds

What does 'recourse to public funds' mean?

Recourse to public funds means you can apply for help with housing or benefits if needed.

Examples of leave to remain that allow recourse to public funds include:

  • Ukraine family scheme visas

  • sponsorship through the Homes for Ukraine scheme

  • the Afghan relocations and assistance policy or the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme

You cannot apply for council housing if your visa says you have no recourse to public funds.

This restriction affects most people from abroad including:

  • overseas students

  • work permit holders

  • people on partner visas

  • visitors and some other types of limited leave to remain.

If you've applied for asylum in the UK, you may qualify for asylum support.

If you have EU pre-settled status

You have to meet extra conditions to apply for council housing if you have pre-settled status under the EU settlement scheme.

You must show that you're in one of the following situations:

  • working or self employed

  • looking for work after working in the UK

  • can't work temporarily due to ill health after working in the UK

  • late stages of pregnancy and expect to return to work or looking for work within a year

  • recently given birth and expect to return to work or looking for work within a year

  • legally resident for at least 5 years

You might 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 was an EU worker. You don't need to be working now.

These extra conditions don't apply if you have settled status under the EU settlement scheme.

What is the habitual residence test?

Most people have to be habitually resident as well as qualify under immigration rules.

This applies to British citizens as well as other passport holders.

You must be living in the Common Travel Area for the foreseeable future.

The Common Travel Area means the UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man

If you've lived abroad in the last 2 years

The council might ask you more questions to work out if you're habitually resident.

Most people are habitually resident within 3 months of arrival in the UK.

Some people can qualify as soon as you arrive. For example, if you:

  • were living in Ireland, the Channel Islands or Isle of Man

  • are deported or removed from another country

  • lived here before and have returned to resettle

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

Some people do not have to be habitually resident. For example, if you have:

  • refugee status or humanitarian protection

  • leave to remain with recourse to public funds because of war in Ukraine or Afghanistan

You must still meet any local rules to join the housing register.

What if the council makes a mistake?

The council must write to you if they decide you can't go on the housing register. They must give reasons why.

You can ask for a review if you think the council is wrong. For example, if you're an EU citizen with pre-settled status who meets the extra conditions.

If you're a returning resident but the council say you're not yet habitually resident, it can be easier to wait a few months and reapply when you can show you have resettled in the UK.

How to ask for a review

The council should tell you about their review process and any time limits. For example, you may have to ask for a review within 3 weeks of getting the council's decision letter.

You may need to give the council more information. For example, if you are working and have pre-settled status you may need to show proof of your income.

It often takes up to 2 months for the council to carry out a review. The council must write to you with their final decision.

Need immigration advice?

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.

Shelter cannot give immigration advice.

Citizens Advice can help you get specialist immigration advice.

Last updated: 22 March 2022

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