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Getting a council home

This advice applies to England

You can apply for a home through your local council. They might also call it ‘social housing’.

If your application is accepted, you’ll go on to a waiting list of people who need a council home. Your council will then prioritise applications based on who needs a home most urgently. The council’s allocations scheme will give details of who gets priority for homes in the area.

Even if you get on the waiting list there’s no guarantee you’ll get a home.

You could be offered a home owned by your local council or housing association.

You might have to apply to some housing associations directly instead of through the council - ask your council if there are any near you.

If your council has a long waiting list, they might ask if you want to apply for homes in other areas as well. You can be on several waiting lists at the same time and this might increase your chances of getting a home.

If you have nowhere to stay tonight

Your council might have a legal duty to help you find accommodation. Find out more about homeless help.

Check if you can apply for a council home

Your local council will have its own rules on who can apply and who has priority for homes - this is called an ‘allocation scheme’. Check your council’s website on GOV.UK to find out how it works in your area.

You’ll probably need to:

  • be on a low income or not have a large amount of savings
  • have lived in the area for a number of years, or have a job or family there - this is called a ‘local connection’

Not all councils need you to have a local connection. If you’re thinking about moving to a different area, it’s worth checking the council’s website to see if you can apply.

You also might be able to apply if you’ve lived in an area before.

If you’re a British or Irish citizen

You can apply if you’re a British or Irish citizen living in the UK.

If you’re living abroad, you’ll need to move back to the UK and prove that you plan to stay before you can apply - this is called the ‘habitual residence’ test. You can read more about the habitual residence test for housing

If you’re from the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland or Liechtenstein

You can only get housing help if you have:

  • British citizenship and can prove you’re ‘habitually resident’ - for example, if you have dual nationality
  • indefinite leave to remain or settled status from the EU Settlement Scheme
  • pre-settled status from the EU Settlement Scheme and another ‘right to reside’
  • limited leave to remain and you have ‘recourse to public funds’ - this means you can claim benefits and get help with housing

You might also be able to get housing help if you both:

  • applied for settled or pre-settled status by 30 June 2021 and are waiting for a decision
  • have a right to reside now – and you also had a right to reside on 31 December 2020

If none of these apply to you, you might be able to make a late application to the EU Settlement Scheme. You’ll need to have a good reason for missing the deadline of 30 June 2021. You can check how to make a late application.

If you’re from outside Europe

You might be eligible for housing help if you’re a family member of someone from the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland or Liechtenstein and one of the following apply:

  • they have settled status from the EU Settlement Scheme
  • they have pre-settled status from the EU Settlement Scheme and another right to reside
  • they applied for settled or pre-settled status by 30 June 2021 and are waiting for a decision or the outcome of an appeal

Your family member’s right to reside depends on things like their work, family and personal situation. You can check if they have a right to reside.

You might be eligible for housing help if you’re a family member of someone who was born in Northern Ireland and they’re a British or Irish citizen – or both. First you’ll need to get pre-settled status or settled status – check if you can apply for pre-settled or settled status on GOV.UK.

If you have settled status, you can apply for housing help. 

If you have pre-settled status, the rules are complicated – talk to an adviser to check if you can apply for housing help.

You might also be eligible, for example if you:

  • are a refugee - this is if you’ve claimed asylum and been given refugee status and leave to remain in the UK
  • have indefinite leave to remain and you’re habitually resident in the UK - this can’t be subject to any conditions such as ‘no recourse to public funds’

Before you try to get housing help, talk to an adviser.

If you're stateless

You can apply for housing help if you:

Find out if you’re a priority for a home

You’re more likely to get a council home if you’ve been given priority by your council's allocation scheme.

This could be if you’re:

  • legally homeless or the council has a duty to find you accommodation if you’re homeless - check what help the council should give you
  • moving because of a disability or serious, long-term health condition
  • moving to a different area because of ‘hardship' - this could be to get medical treatment, because you’re in danger or to take up a new job
  • in a home that’s overcrowded or in poor condition

It’s likely to take you a long time to get an offer - even if you get priority in your area. In areas with long waiting lists, you might not be offered a home at all.

It might be best to look for a home yourself or stay where you are - if you’re struggling with money, check if you can get help with your rent. You can also look at renting from a private landlord.

If you think you haven’t been given enough priority, you can ask your council to review their decision. Check your council's allocation scheme to see who's given priority in your area.

Applying for a council home

You’ll probably need to apply online - check which council you need to apply to on GOV.UK.

If the council accepts your application, it doesn’t mean you’ll get a home straight away. You’ll go on a waiting list and it could still take a long time.

If you’re applying directly to a housing association the rules might be different - check their process on their website.

Filling in the application

Give as much detail as you can in your application. You might be asked to give extra evidence to support your application - like medical notes if you have a health condition.

Your council will use the information you give them to decide if you’re eligible to join the waiting list. If your application’s accepted, they’ll then use it to decide if you get priority and what size home you should get.

You might need to give details of:

  • your income, including from your job or benefits
  • any long-term health conditions or disabilities you have
  • your job history
  • your savings and any assets you have - this is an item that’s worth a lot of money, for example a car
  • where you’ve lived for the last few years and why you left
  • any visas or immigration documents (like a passport), if you’re not from the UK

If you need help with your application

You’ll need to answer a lot of questions in the application form and it could take more than an hour to complete. Talk to your local council if you need help.

You might be able to get a family member or carer to help with your application too.

Getting your decision

If your application is accepted, your council will put you in a group or ‘band’ that reflects your level of priority.

If they think you need a home urgently, you’ll usually be given a high priority.

You could still have a long wait for a home even if you have high priority. Ask your local council to find out how long the wait is in your area.

Your council decides your level of priority using the criteria in their allocations scheme.

If you don’t think they’ve given you the right level of priority under their scheme, you can ask them to review it. Check your council’s allocation scheme before you ask for a review.

If your application is refused

Ask the council to review their decision.

You can also look at renting from a private landlord or getting help with your rent.

If your situation changes

If your situation changes, tell your council as soon as possible - it might change your position on the waiting list.

This could mean you’ll get a home more quickly, but it also could move you down the list.

If you don't tell the council about changes that affect your level of priority, you could be accused of lying on your application. This could mean you'd be evicted from any home you get.

You should let your council know if you:

  • become pregnant or have another child
  • develop a new medical condition or your medical needs change
  • have a change in income - this could be if your benefits stop or your salary changes
  • are being harassed where you live
  • move house or have other new contact details

Check if you can bid for a home

Ask your council if you have to bid for homes or if they’ll pick one for you.

If they choose one for you, they could offer it by phone. They'll usually follow it up with a letter.

Bidding for a home

Your local council might have an online system where you can look for a home.

If you like a home and it’s suitable for you, you can let the council know you’re interested by applying for it online - this is called ‘bidding’. Your council will tell you how their bidding system works.

The homes will all have a closing date, so make sure you bid before then.

If you’ve bid for a home, it doesn’t mean you’ll get it.

Your council will tell you how often you can bid for homes. They might also set a limit on how many homes you can bid for.

Once the bidding period has closed, your council will look at your level of priority and usually how long you’ve been waiting.

The council will usually offer the home to the person who has the highest level of priority in their scheme.

You might be able to refuse a council home if you don't think it's suitable for your needs, but it’s important to check - some councils might remove you from their waiting list. Find out more about refusing an unsuitable home.

If you’re offered a council home

Your council will tell you how long you have to accept or reject an offer
- you’ll usually only have a short time before your council offers it to someone else.

If you decide to accept a home, your council will arrange a time for you to sign the contract.

You could be offered a long-term tenancy or a fixed-term contract for a year or more.

Your council will tell you when you can move in and when you have to pay rent.

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