To get help if you are homeless or to go on to the council housing register, you must be eligible. The law defines who is and is not eligible, in terms of immigration status and habitual residence. The law is different for people from within the European Economic Area (EEA) and the UK and those from elsewhere.
Rules about who can actually apply for a housing allocation in England vary between local authority areas, because councils can set their own local rules about who can apply to be on a housing register or waiting list. In 2013, the government also issued guidance recommending that local councils require applicants for housing to have been resident for at least two years, but also to make exceptions for people with family or work connections to the area, among others. Some councils have introduced new residence requirements, and in some cases the requirement is longer than two years. However, these rules cannot discriminate directly or indirectly against particular nationalities or ethnic groups (for more on this see the page on what is discrimination?). Note: these rules and guidance do not affect homelessness assistance and do not apply to Wales.
From 31st October 2014, the Welsh rules became the same as those in England. However, the previous Welsh rules apply where an application for a housing allocation was made to a local housing authority in Wales before 31st October 2014 (see below).
To be eligible for housing, EEA nationals must have a right to reside in the UK:
- A right to reside can be gained by EEA workers and self-employed people.
- There are some special rules about working that apply to Croatians.
- In some cases, people who are temporarily unable to work are also eligible: see EEA workers and self-employed people and Bulgarians, Romanians and Croatians.
- Other EEA nationals who are studying or self-sufficient may also be eligible in some circumstances but will have to pass the habitual residence test.
- Family members of eligible EEA nationals are usually eligible, even when they are not themselves EEA nationals.
- Some rights to reside, such as those for people looking for work who have never worked, or who have previously left the labour market, do not make people eligible.
People from outside the EEA
Citizens of countries from outside the EEA are generally subject to immigration control and need permission to enter or remain in the UK. The eligibility rules for England say that only some people subject to immigration control are eligible:
- Refugees, people with discretionary leave, humanitarian protection or exceptional leave following an application for asylum, and people brought to the UK on the special settlement programme for Afghan interpreters are eligible provided their leave does not include a public funds restriction.
- People with indefinite leave to remain are eligible (with some exceptions) but have to pass the habitual residence test.
- Generally, people with other forms of limited leave to remain are not eligible.
Most other people from outside Europe are not eligible for housing and homelessness help. Social services departments may be able to help some people (e.g. people with social care needs) get accommodation in emergencies. There are also special services for people fleeing domestic violence. There may also be some help available from charities for people who are homeless and destitute.
The rules for applications before 31st October 2014 in Wales
Any EEA national was eligible if s/he could pass the habitual residence test, and those who were covered by the rules on work and self-employment did not have to pass the test. People from Turkey and Macedonia who had a legal right to live in the UK and were habitually resident were eligible for a housing allocation and for homelessness help. People from Turkey and Macedonia are no longer eligible under the Welsh rules unless their applications were made before 31st October 2014.