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Advising British and Irish citizens

This page is for housing advisers. If you are a new arrival please click here for information more relevant to you.

What are the housing and housing benefit rights of British and Irish citizens?

This page looks at common housing problems faced British and Irish citizens when accessing housing, homelessness services or housing benefit.  The page on British and Irish citizens  explains their general rights.  Here we look at some potential problems with housing and housing benefit applications. 

Proving nationality: housing and homeless applications

Like any other applicants, British and Irish citizens may be asked for proof of eligibility for housing services, or for their ‘right to rent’ in the private rented sector.  

It is important to note that people seeking advice and information from the local authority do not have to prove eligibility: local councils have to ensure that this is provided free of charge to anyone in their area. In England this duty came into force on 3 April 2018 but it has existed in Wales for some time. This advice and information must, in particular, meet the needs of:

  • persons released from prison or youth detention accommodation
  • care leavers
  • former members of the regular armed forces
  • victims of domestic abuse
  • persons leaving hospital
  • persons suffering from a mental illness or impairment, and
  • any other group that the authority identify as being at particular risk of homelessness in the authority’s district.

[See revised section 179a, Housing Act 1996]

For housing allocation and further homelessness services, applicants must be eligible but no specific documents are required, and local authorities are also required to provide necessary assistance to applicants.  This is specified in section 166(1)(b) Housing Act 1996, and there is more detail in the respective Codes of Guidance. 

Where the council has ‘reason to believe’ that an applicant for homelessness services is eligible, homeless and in priority need, a duty to accommodate while further enquiries are made is triggered (s188(1) HA 1996). The code of guidance for England (paragraph 6.5) reminds local authorities that having a reason to believe is a lower test than ‘being satisfied’. There is no requirement whatsoever for an applicant to produce evidence of nationality. Once the applicant is in emergency housing, the authority must give the applicant reasonable time and assistance to provide any proofs of eligibility needed.  The applicant must co-operate with the authority in this (for example, by giving permission for the authority to contact the Home Office if necessary, or by providing the details and information needed). The authority must always act reasonably, for example, in setting time limits for proofs to be provided, assisting the applicant to get those proofs, and in believing the applicant they are otherwise credible and there appears to be good reason for being unable to produce other proofs. 

For those born before 1st January 1983, proof of birth in the UK is proof enough of citizenship. For those born in the UK after that date, proof of citizenship or settled status of either parent plus proof of birth in the UK should be enough. If the applicant is in receipt of benefits, the DWP may have copies of documentation provided for the claim. 

Where a British or Irish citizen wants to rent privately, if this is in an area covered by the ‘right to rent’ provisions of the Immigration Act 2014 the landlord is concerned not with ‘proving’ citizenship but simply with having a statutory excuse and so avoiding a fine. The list of acceptable documents in the Home Office guidance (section 2, List A) is what provides such an excuse. 

Proving nationality and national insurance number: housing benefit

The requirement to provide a national insurance number (or evidence that they have applied for one) applies to both the claimant and their partner: there is no entitlement to HB unless this condition is met (HB Regulations 2006, regulation 4). All the other rules about nationality and entitlement to HB apply to the claimant only and not to their partner or to any other member of their household (HB Guidance Manual paragraphs C4.40, C4.218).

If the claimant is single or a lone parent and British/Irish then proving nationality and meeting the national insurance number requirements should be straightforward. The HB Guidance Manual (part C4 Annex B) (at paragraph 15) advises local authorities that a current passport, birth certificate, or certificate from the Home Office confirming grant of citizenship or Irish equivalent is sufficient.

If the claimant has a partner who is subject to immigration control (for example, a non-UK spouse with limited leave)

  • The eligible member can apply for both of them and the personal allowance for a couple is awarded in full (HB Guidance Manual paragraph C4.218). However, this does not mean that it is safe to claim because the increased award is treated as ‘recourse to public funds’ and the local authority may notify the Home Office even though they are not obliged to do so (paragraph C4.218).
  • The national insurance number requirement also applies to the partner except where that person requires leave but does not have it (HB regulation 4(c)). In these cases the authority can assign a dummy number (HB Guidance Manual paragraphs D1.284-286) but this carries the risk that the local authority or the DWP may notify the Home Office.

Children or dependant adults with ‘Zambrano’ carers

A ‘Zambrano’ carer is a person from a non-EEA state whose residence is required in order to enable a child or dependant adult, who is an EEA national, to exercise their treaty rights. If a British or Irish child or dependant adult has a Zambrano carer there are more details here.

Housing and homelessness applications from mixed households

The eligibility criteria for a housing allocation from a local authority apply only to the applicant themselves. If the applicant is British or Irish and has no dependants then they are eligible for a housing allocation or homelessness assistance without further conditions. Different rules apply if the application is from a mixed household (i.e. the applicant is eligible but other members of his/her household are not).

Passing the habitual residence test

British and Irish citizens who recently arrived in the UK may find that they have been refused benefits because they fail the habitual residence test. People who fail the test are still entitled to advice and information to prevent or alleviate their homelessness. The test applies to the claimant/applicant only (and not their partner) and in practice only to those who have returned to live in the UK during the two-year period prior to their application/claim (HB Guidance Manual paragraph C4.40, Homelessness Code of Guidance paragraph 9.16). The habitual residence test does not apply if the applicant/claimant:

  • is British returning to live in the UK after exercising their EU treaty rights to live and work in another member state (in which case documentary evidence such as a payslip should be sufficient) (Swaddling v Adjudication Officer, HB Guidance Manual part C4, Annex B paragraph 17)
  • is Irish and has lived and worked in the UK (for the same reason above)
  • has been deported, expelled  or removed to the UK from another country (HB regulation 10(3B)(i), Homelessness Code of Guidance, paragraph 9.21)
  • for housing benefit only, is in receipt of  one of the passport benefits, income-based JSA, income-related ESA, income support or state pension credit (HB regulation 10(3B)(k)-(l)).

In all other cases British/Irish citizens must show they are habitually resident on the facts. British citizens who have lived most of the life outside the UK may find the facts in the Olokunboro case helpful (for details, see the habitual residence test).

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Background Topics

How can we improve housing for new migrants in the UK?

Chartered Institute of Housing