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How to Apply for a Council Home

You must apply to the council housing department to get a council house or flat. This guide explains about council housing waiting lists and types of tenancies available.

What is the process and procedures when applying for a council home?

Each regional authority has its own set of rules. That means you should apply for council housing from one of the authorities.

In most cases you will need to join a waiting list. Even so, there is no guarantee that you will to get accepted for a council property.

In some cases, you can apply for council housing even if you do not live in the same area of the United Kingdom.

As a rule, you should be at least 18 years old to apply for a council home.

But, in fact, some area authorities will accept applications from those who are 16 years old or over.

Council House Waiting List

Each individual authority decides who gets the housing allocation. They base their decision on a ‘points system‘ – often called ‘banding‘.

The urgency of each case gets influenced through the points and bands system. So, you would be more likely to get offered accommodation first if:

  • You are suffering emergency homelessness.
  • You live in cramped or hazardous conditions.
  • Your current home is making a medical condition worse.

You can ask for an estimate of how long you are likely to wait. But, councils will inform you about any available homes as you get close to the top of the waiting list.

Choice-based Letting Scheme

Some councils operate a choice-based letting scheme. The system allows you to state your preferred type of property. But, regional authorities make the final decision.

If you get accepted onto the council house waiting list you will need to follow these 4 basic steps:

  1. Search for a council housing property. You can check in local newspapers and at your nearest libraries. You may also find housing listed on council websites and in their offices.
  2. Confirm you are eligible. Certain properties are only suitable for families, a single person, or disabled people.
  3. Apply for the property. They call this a ‘bidding‘ process but no money gets exchanged. You can make your bid online, by telephone, or through a text message.
  4. Wait for the council to make their decision.

Getting a Council House Provisional Offer

As a rule, you have little time to accept or deny a council house offer. But, you can usually stay on the waiting list even if you do not take the provisional offer.

Even though you can bid for other properties, you may get placed lower down on the waiting list. Rejecting too many council house offers means you could get taken off the list for a while.

Note: You can make an appeal if you are unhappy about the decision by your council.

Types of Council House Tenancy Agreements

A council house tenancy agreement is a legal document. It explains all the rules about living in council housing properties. But, different council tenants use different tenancies granting different rights and responsibilities.

Introductory Tenancy

The introductory tenancy gets offered to new council tenants most often. As a rule, they would last 12 months and function much like a ‘trial’ period.

In most cases, it is an automatic process to become a secure or flexible tenant after 12 months. The exception could be if council:

  1. Starts council housing eviction proceedings.
  2. Decides to extend your introductory tenancy for an extra six (6) months.

Introductory tenancies have some limitations. For example tenants with this type of council house tenancy are not allowed to:

  • Apply to buy the property through the council Right to Buy scheme.
  • Make any major improvements to the property.
  • Swap the property with another council tenant.

Secure Tenancy

Having a secure tenancy usually means you can live in the property for the rest of your life. Providing you do not breach the conditions of the tenancy you can:

  • Choose to rent out rooms but you cannot sub-let the whole of the property.
  • Buy it through the Right to Buy scheme.
  • Swap it with another council or housing association tenant. But, you need the permission beforehand to swap a council or housing association home.
  • Transfer your tenancy to another person (some conditions apply).
  • Make improvements to the property. You need council permission for certain types of structural work.

Scottish Secure Tenancy

Housing associations or housing co-operatives in Scotland use the Scottish secure tenancy arrangement. You are most likely to have this type of tenancy agreement if you rent a council home in Scotland.

Flexible Tenancy

Being a flexible tenant means your tenancy is set for a fixed period. As a rule this is for at least 5 years. But, in some cases it may get fixed between 2 and 5 years instead.

When a fixed tenancy period ends the council may then decide:

  1. To offer you another fixed-term tenancy or a secure tenancy.
  2. Not to renew your tenancy altogether.

Your area authority must explain the reasons for not renewing your tenancy. They must also give you an opportunity to challenge their decision.

Tenants with a flexible tenancy can:

  • Choose to rent out rooms but you cannot sub-let the whole of the property.
  • Buy it through the Right to Buy scheme.
  • Swap it with another council or housing association tenant. But, you would need the permission of the council beforehand.
  • Transfer your tenancy to another person (some conditions apply).

Joint Tenancy

All tenants share equal responsibilities as part of a joint tenancy agreement. Married people, or those who are in a registered civil partnership, can apply for a joint tenancy at any time.

But, you must usually have lived together for at least 12 months in the property. The same rule refers to people cohabiting as a couple or those related (e.g. brother and sister).

Transferring a Tenancy

Tenants with secure and flexible terms can often transfer a tenancy to someone else. In some circumstances, they can also pass on the tenancy to someone if they die.

If they granted your secure tenancy before the 1st of April 2012 you can transfer it, or pass it on, one time only. Thus, taking over a tenancy when someone dies means you cannot pass it on to someone else when you die.

Different rules apply to some secure and flexible tenancies set from the 1st of April 2012. You might be able to transfer it or pass it on more than once. It is best to check your tenancy agreement for confirmation.

You must complete a ‘request to assign tenancy‘ form to transfer a tenancy. The forms are available from your local council housing department.

Ending a Council House Tenancy

There are specific rules for ending your council house tenancy. You can only end it if:

  • You provide your council with 4 weeks of notice in writing.
  • You get evicted by the council.
  • They need to move you to an alternative property (e.g. to redevelop the original property).

Councils may also end a secure tenancy if:

  • They need to move you to an alternative property (e.g. to redevelop the original property).
  • You swap homes or transfer your tenancy to someone else.

Ending Joint Tenancies

What if only one of you wants to end the tenancy in a joint tenancy agreement? In this case your council may decide to:

  1. Give a new tenancy agreement to the remaining tenant(s) for the same property.
  2. Refuse a new tenancy to the remaining tenant(s). This happens most if the property could go to another couple or another family.

Joint tenancies continue for surviving tenants if only one joint tenant dies. But, the court will make the housing decision if you and your partner get divorced. The same applies if your relationship breaks down and you fail to agree on who gets to keep the tenancy.

Council Home Repairs and Maintenance

Tenants living in council housing will be responsible for certain things such as:

  • Arranging (and paying) for repairs to any damage caused by you or your house visitors.
  • Repairing a window curtain or a shower rail.
  • Replacing lost door keys.

The council also has responsibilities for ensuring that:

  • The property structure gets kept in good condition. That also includes the ceilings, the roof, windows, and the walls.
  • Any electricity and gas appliances work safely.
  • All shared parts of a building or housing estate get kept in good condition.

Councils publish their policy on timescales for carrying out repairs and maintenance. But, in most cases, you should get several weeks’ advance notice for any work needed.

Note: Tenants can request a repair to a council property if there is an urgent problem that needs fixing.

Major repairs may mean you have to leave your council home during the work. In this case, they will find you somewhere else to live while the work gets carried out. They will cover the cost of moving you to another home.

In some cases you can get money from your council to pay for the moving costs and the inconvenience caused.

Property Damage Caused by Council Works

As a rule the council will repair any damage caused by their building work or maintenance. You might also get a rent reduction if the repairs cause excessive disruption.

Doing Your Own Council Home Improvements

Your tenancy agreement determines what improvements you can make to your council property. Those with introductory tenancies are usually limited to making only minor improvements. For example redecorating inside the home.

If you are renting as a secure tenant, you can carry out most improvements to your property, including:

  • Having a new kitchen or bathroom installed.
  • Having an extension built.
  • Erecting a greenhouse or a garden shed.
  • Having a fireplace or a new gas fire installed.
  • Getting the cavity walls insulated.
  • Redecorating the outside of the home.
  • Having a satellite dish or an aerial fitted.

Note: You may need to get written permission from your council before you conduct the work.

Council Home Complaints

You should follow these 3 steps if you have any problems with your council housing:

  1. The first step is complaining to your local council. They usually have a formal complaints policy for you to follow.
  2. The next step is to make a complaint to a ‘designated person‘. This can be your local MP or you may need to find local councillors for the area you live in.
  3. The Housing Ombudsman can help if you and your council still fail to resolve the problem.

Housing Ombudsman
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 0300 111 3000
Check the cost of making phone calls.

Council Housing Fraud

Committing housing fraud is a serious offence. You can lose your tenancy and your right to council housing if you get caught. Council housing fraud includes:

  • Being dishonest when you apply for a council home (e.g. claiming to have children if you do not).
  • Sub-letting a council property without their permission.
  • Living in a home after the legal tenant died without the right to do so.

Note: The most serious council house fraud offences can result in a fine or a prison sentence.

Council House Fraud Checks

Fraud checks can take place at any time during a council tenancy and without any advance warning. The local authority will carry out certain checks such as:

  • Comparing tenant housing records against other records. This could include the Electoral Roll or Housing Benefit data.
  • Finding out whether the genuine tenant lives at the property. One way is by asking to see a tenant passport and their tenancy agreement.

How to Report Council House Fraud

Almost all councils have a telephone number so people can report suspicious behaviour. You do not need to give your name or address when you report suspected council house fraud.

How to Buy Your Council House

The Right to Buy your council house scheme means you can apply to buy your home providing:

  • The home is your only or main dwelling.
  • It is a self-contained property.
  • You have a secure tenancy agreement.
  • You had a public sector landlord for five (5) years (e.g. a council, a housing association, or the NHS trust).

How to Apply for Council Housing Online in the United Kingdom