Skip to content

Can I get a rented home through the local council?

This page is for new arrivals. If you are a housing adviser, please click for information more relevant to you.

How do you apply for housing from the local authority?

There are two ways you can apply for permanent housing from your local authority:

  • as a homeless person who has a ‘priority need’; or
  • through its allocation scheme (this is also sometimes called the housing register or waiting list).

This page tells you how to apply for housing through the local authority allocation scheme. To apply because you are homeless, go to this page.

What is a local allocation scheme?

Every local authority in England and Wales must provide an ‘allocation scheme’ by which local residents can apply for, and be offered, a long-term tenancy with the local authority (if it owns housing) or with a local housing association. Some councils run their scheme jointly with others so that you can be offered a home from a much wider area.

Each council can set its own rules about who has priority for, and in England who qualifies for, housing in its allocation scheme. But every scheme must take account of your immigration/residency status and your priority must be based on your housing need.

Who can apply?

Anyone can apply to go on the council housing list or allocation scheme but if you have limited leave or leave with conditions (such ‘no public funds’) it may affect your future right to remain in the UK, so you should get advice beforehand.

When the authority decides your priority for housing and if you qualify it must comply with any national legislation and its own scheme rules. You should be offered a tenancy if:

  • you (the applicant) are eligible for housing due to your immigration/residency status (but you don’t have to meet this requirement if you are already a council/housing association tenant and you want to move)
  • in England only, you meet any local qualification conditions (typically you have lived in the area for the required minimum period)
  • you aren’t disqualified due to your unacceptable behaviour, and
  • you have a housing need that has a high enough priority.

What are local qualification conditions?

In addition to the rules about immigration status each local authority in England can set further conditions (or none at all) about who qualifies for its scheme. Many have a condition that you must have lived in the area for a minimum period (a ‘residency condition’), typically one to five years (and at least one authority has a ten-year rule). But even if your local authority doesn’t set any further conditions it may still give your application a lower priority if you have lived in the area for only a short period.

Government guidance recommends local authorities should adopt a two-year residency condition but should make exceptions if you have work or family connections with the area (or for other reasons). But the law also requires that any local conditions must not discriminate directly or indirectly against any nationality or ethnic group.

Who can be disqualified for unacceptable behaviour?

If you or a family member have been guilty of ‘serious unacceptable behaviour’ or you are ‘unsuitable to be a tenant’ you can be disqualified, or your application can be downgraded as having low or nil priority. ‘Serious unacceptable behaviour’ means any behaviour that is so serious that you could have been evicted for it had you been a tenant at that time. For example, it could include substantial rent arrears, anti-social behaviour or damage to property.

How is priority for housing decided?

If your application is accepted the local authority must decide your priority compared to other people applying. The local authority must do this based on housing need. For example, you must be given a reasonable priority if:

  • you are homeless (even if the authority has no duty to help you because, for example, you have no children)
  • you live in temporary accommodation
  • you live in overcrowded or unhealthy conditions
  • you need to move for work or family reasons
  • you need different accommodation because of age, illness or disability
  • you need more secure or cheaper housing
  • you already have a council or housing association tenancy, but you need to move to avoid hardship to yourself or others.

How does the local authority make an offer of housing?

Most local authorities use a ‘choice-based’ system. You apply, go on the list and are given points for the level of need that you have. Any available homes 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 and in a place where you want to live. The home is offered to the bidder with the highest number of points.

A few local authorities operate a different system. You still go on to a list and get points for your level of housing need, but if a home becomes available, the authority makes the offer straight to the person with the highest number of points. If you refuse it, you may lose your place on the list.

A local authority may offer a home that it owns (often called ‘council housing’) or it may ‘nominate’ you for a home owned by a housing association.

How can I find out more about how my local authority’s scheme?

Your local authority must publish details of its scheme, including how it decides who is given priority for housing and, in England, any local qualification conditions. Most do this on their website, and some provide printed copies at their offices (or both). For Wales, this article explains how to apply to every local authority.

Can I challenge the authority’s decision?

If your application is refused or given a low priority you have the right to ask the local authority to look at their decision again and you can get advice to help you do this. Sometimes local authorities wrongly refuse applications because they don’t fully understand the law about immigration status or EU free movement rights. If this applies to you, you can challenge it as being discrimination.

What happens if I get offered a home?

Before you are handed the keys, the local authority (or housing association, if you have a nomination) will carry out various checks, for example about how you will pay the rent. Normally someone will accompany you to the house or flat and show you how heating and other services work. If you need more help at this point, for example if you don’t know how controls work, it is important to make this clear. You should also be given contact details for the local authority or housing association, so you can report any problems or get advice once you move in.