Who gets priority?

Council and housing association waiting lists don’t work on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.

Your chances of getting a place and how long you’ll have to wait probably depend on:

  • how much council or housing association housing there is in your area
  • how flexible you can be in terms of type of property and areas you would consider
  • how much priority you’ve been awarded
  • how many other applicants have priority.

By law, there are certain groups of people who must always be given priority. The law calls this ‘reasonable preference’.

Being awarded ‘reasonable preference’ does not guarantee you a place. There might be a long waiting list for council and housing association places in your area and limited places available.

If you are not given ‘reasonable preference’ you could be waiting a very long time for a place.

How do I know if I will be given ‘reasonable preference’?

Each council will have it’s own allocations policy which should set out the rules for allocating properties in it’s area, including the rules for awarding ‘reasonable preference’. The rules will vary from council to council.

Many councils produce leaflets that explain their policy. You can find these at the council’s housing office, in libraries, community centres or online.

You should be able to find details of a council’s housing allocations policy on its website. Click on Gov.uk to find your local council’s website.

Priority if you are homeless or about to lose your home

If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness in the next 56 days, the council must give you reasonable preference on the waiting list for a permanent home.

You are also likely to be eligible to receive some help and advice from the council’s homelessness department, possibly including some emergency accommodation. If you have not already done so, ask to make a homelessness application.

Priority if you are living in very poor conditions

You may be entitled to reasonable preference if your home:

  • is in serious disrepair
  • is overcrowded
  • is insanitary (ie. it doesn’t have proper drainage and sewerage)
  • lacks basic washing and cooking facilities.

The council will need to visit your home to inspect it and assess how bad the conditions are before it decides how much priority you should get. There is usually a scale of priority for poor conditions – if the council decides that your home is in such bad condition that it is dangerous or potentially damaging to your health, you will get a lot more points than if it is inconvenient or unpleasant but not a major health risk.

Priority if you need to move for medical or welfare reasons

You may get reasonable preference if anyone in your household:

  • has health problems that are made worse by where you live
  • has mobility problems that make it difficult to get around your home
  • suffers from a mental illness or depression, that is made worse by your accommodation
  • needs to move for social reasons, for example, a care leaver, or other vulnerable person, needing somewhere stable to live.

When you apply you should give as much information as possible about your health or social problems and how they are affected by where you are living. Explain the difficulties any medical condition causes in as much detail as you can. The council may contact your GP and you should include details of any other health worker or social worker who can support your application.

The council should carry out an assessment of your care or support needs to make sure that any accommodation is right for you.

Priority if you need to live in the area to avoid hardship

You should also be given reasonable preference on the waiting list if you can show that there are special social or welfare reasons why you need to live in a particular area. This might be the case if, for example:

  • you or someone in your household is studying at a special school in the area
  • you need to be able to access specialist medical treatment or support in the area (for example if you’re leaving care and need to be close to people who can support you)
  • you need to be close to a relative so that you can look after her/him (or s/he can look after you)
  • you need to move to take up a specific job or training.

Extra priority if you have served in the armed forces

The council may give you some additional preference on the waiting list if you are a:

  • former member of the regular armed forces
  • former member of the armed forces who has been seriously injured or disabled in service
  • bereaved spouse or civil partner who has to leave forces accommodation following your partner’s death in service.

The Welsh Government has produced a National Housing Pathway which sets out what housing help you can get as ex-service personnel.

See our Useful Links for other organisations that might be able to help you.

Extra priority if you have an urgent housing need

If you fit into any of the ‘reasonable preference’ groups outlined above, you may also be given ‘additional preference’ if you have an urgent housing need. This is like being given a head-start. An urgent housing need might be because:

  • you are at risk of domestic or other abuse in your current home
  • you’ve been a witness or victim of crime and are at risk of intimidation
  • you have been harassed, threatened or attacked in the area because of your race or sexuality
  • you need to move because of urgent medical needs, for example, you or a member of your household, has a life-threatening illness and your property is unsuitable
  • your housing benefit has reduced because of the bedroom tax and you can no longer afford the rent. You would like to move to a smaller, more affordable, property.

These are just some examples. You might be given ‘additional preference’ for other reasons. The council should consider all of your circumstances and decide if you have an urgent housing need. Make sure you tell them why you need to move, and what might happen if you don’t.

If you’ve been involved in unacceptable behaviour

If the council believes that you, or any member of your household, have been involved in behaviour that is serious enough to make you unsuitable to be a council tenant, they can take away any priority you have been given. This includes any ‘reasonable preference’ you have been given for the reasons outlined above. The most common reasons why this might happen are if:

  • someone in your household has been involved in anti-social behaviour, or
  • you have a history of serious rent arrears.

When it makes a decision about this, the council will use the same criteria as it uses when assessing whether or not you are eligible. If the council decides that your priority should be taken away, they should write and tell you. If you get a letter about taking away your priority then you should get advice. An adviser can look into your situation and may be able to help you show the council that what happened was not your fault, or was outside of your control.

If you have previously had your priority taken away but your circumstances have now changed (for example, you have cleared your rent arrears, or, the person who was involved in anti-social behaviour has now left), then you can ask to make a fresh application.

When the council can reduce or take away priority

The council can only do this in certain situations, such as if:

  • you’ve behaved anti-socially since you first made your application (see above)
  • you have moved and the conditions in your new accommodation are better
  • you have moved to settled accommodation and are no longer homeless
  • you have recovered from an illness which gave you extra priority
  • you can afford to buy or rent accommodation for yourself.

If the council wants to take away your priority for any other reason and you don’t think it’s fair, get advice.

What if I don’t think I’ve been given enough priority?

You can ask the council to review your application and make a new decision. It’s worth getting advice first, as an adviser may be able to help you put together your case. For instance, you may need to arrange for a medical report to show how your health problems are affected by your current housing situation.

We are sorry that we cannot provide this information in Welsh, however if you would like to speak to an adviser in Welsh please contact 0345 075 5005.

Phone an adviser

If you have a housing problem, call our expert housing advice helpline
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This page was last updated on: December 5, 2018

Shelter Cymru acknowledges the support of Shelter in allowing us to adapt their content. The information contained on this site is updated and maintained by Shelter Cymru and only gives general guidance on the law in Wales. It should not be regarded or relied upon as a complete or authoritative statement of the law.