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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 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 must 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 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 identifies as being at particular risk of homelessness in the authority’s district.

[See revised section 179, 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 1 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. 

In England private landlords are responsible for checking the documents of any new tenants to establish whether they have the ‘right to rent’.Although British and Irish citizens automatically have the right to rent the only way the landlord can protect themselves against the risk of a fine (if it turns out that one of the occupiers doesn’t have the right to rent) is to show that they had seen one of the acceptable documents in the Home Office guidance (section 2, List A).

Family members of a person from Northern Ireland

A ‘family member’ of ‘a person from Northern Ireland’ can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme for EU Settled Status or Pre-settled Status. A family member is a person from a non-EEA state who is the spouse/civil partner or dependent direct relative of a person born in Northern Ireland, or a dependent direct relative of his or her spouse/civil partner. ‘Dependent’ means financially dependent or a person aged under 21.

A family member with EU Settled Status is entitled to help with housing and benefits provided s/he is habitually resident. From 24 August 2020, a family member with Pre-settled Status is entitled to housing/homelessness assistance in England, if the person from Northern Ireland they accompany is an EEA worker, retained worker or self-employed person (or would have if s/he was an EEA national). The same rule applies to UC/HB, but in this case the family member is also entitled if s/he is habitually resident and the person from Northern Ireland they accompany has (or would have if s/he was an EEA national) some other right to reside other than as a jobseeker, Zambrano carer or for the first three months.

Children or dependant adults with ‘Zambrano’ carers

A ‘Zambrano’ carer is a person from a non-EEA state whose residence is required 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). But in the case of a claim for universal credit (but not HB or CTR) both members of a couple are usually joint claimants (and therefore both would have to be habitually resident). However, if only one of them is habitually resident, that person can claim UC as a single person (the Universal Credit Regulations 2013, Reg 3(3)(b)).

For more information on claims for UC/HB/CTR including: couples with mixed immigration status (e.g. only one member British); the requirement to provide a national insurance number and/or evidence of nationality (e.g. undocumented ‘Windrush’ cases), see the page on the law on UC, HB and CTR.

In practice the habitual residence test is only applied to those who have returned to live in the UK during the two-year period prior to their application/claim (usually by a filter question on the application/claim form). 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: Advice for Decision Making Chapter C1 (Universal Credit), paragraph C1962; 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 a right of abode or settled status and has been deported, expelled or removed to the UK from another country (UC regulation 9(4)(g), HB regulation 10(3B)(i), Homelessness Code of Guidance, paragraph 7.15); or
  • for housing benefit only, is in receipt of 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?

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