Those who can apply to go on the council housing list or allocation scheme include people who:
- are homeless (even if the council has no duty to help them because, for example, they have no children)
- in temporary accommodation
- in overcrowded or unhealthy conditions
- need to move for work or family reasons
- need different accommodation because of age, illness or disability
- want more secure or cheaper housing
- are existing council or housing association tenants who want to move.
Rules about who can actually apply for a housing allocation in England vary between local authority areas, because on 18th June 2012 the Localism Act introduced changes which enable councils to 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.
In Wales, local housing authorities cannot make general requirements about who can apply to be on a housing register or waiting list. The only people who can be excluded from the housing register or waiting list are:
- people from abroad who are not eligible (see who is eligible for a housing allocation or homelessness assistance); and
- people whom the local housing authority have decided were guilty of unacceptable behaviour serious enough to make them unsuitable to be a council tenant.
This latter test can only be applied on an individual basis; there cannot be any broad exclusions.
If you are eligible you can apply to go onto the list and include in your application anyone who can reasonably be included as part of your family or household, whether they are eligible or not. Their circumstances (such as overcrowding or medical needs) will also count towards the priority you get.
Every housing authority has to have a scheme under which they allocate housing to housing applicants. Most authorities give some priority to people who have a local connection with the area and some exclude people from going on the list if they have not lived in the area for a specified period, often called a 'residency requirement' or 'qualification'. Only eligible and qualified people can be offered accommodation, and eligibility is determined by immigration status and habitual residence.
Local authorities then have to prioritise the applications for any housing where demand exceeds supply. They must give priority to those living in poor conditions, people in social or medical need and those who are homeless. New long-term local authority tenancies and nominations to housing associations can only be granted to people on the list.
Local councils have different ways of allocating property but most use a choice-based lettings system. You apply, go on the list and are given points for the level of need that you have. Any available homes from the council and housing associations in the area are advertised in local housing offices, on the internet, in the local paper and other places, and you can bid for them if they are the type of home that you want. The home is allocated to the bidder with the highest number of points.
Some councils run their allocations scheme jointly with other local councils so that you can bid for homes from a much wider area.
A few councils still operate a different system. You still go on to a list and get points for your level of housing need (medical, social, housing conditions, homelessness, time waited and so on). When a home becomes vacant, the person with the highest number of points is offered it. If you refuse it, you may lose your place on the list, or be refused further temporary accommodation if homeless.
In order to find out whether or not a local council has a residency requirement, or any other sort of qualification, and to find out how a council prioritises all the people on its waiting list, you can search the council's website for a summary of its allocation scheme.
Sometimes, councils refuse to put eligible applicants on the housing register because they do not understand the law. If this is because of your immigration status, but you are eligible, this is called discrimination. There is information about what you can do about this in the page on challenging discrimination.