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Who is eligible to apply for a council or housing association home?

Eligibility for a council or housing association home depends on your nationality, immigration status and if you’ve recently lived abroad. In Wales, it can also depend on your past behaviour.

What does ‘being eligible’ mean?

The council or housing association can’t allow you on to it’s waiting list if:

  • you are not eligible, or
  • you are treated as not eligible because of serious unacceptable behaviour.

Most people who are living in the UK permanently are eligible, but there are some exceptions.

Being eligible doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed to be offered a place. It means that you are entitled to be considered for a home and to go on the waiting list. In many areas, there is very little housing available, so there is often a very long wait, and some people may never get an offer.

People from abroad

Only certain people from abroad are eligible to apply for a council or housing association home.

Eligibility depends on whether you are a person ‘subject to immigration control’.

People who are subject to immigration control

If you are subject to immigration control you are not eligible for council housing in Wales, unless:

  • you are a refugee
  • you have exceptional leave to remain in the UK, and your leave doesn’t state that you should have ‘no recourse to public funds’
  • you are habitually resident in the UK and your leave was granted without any conditions
  • you have humanitarian protection
  • you are an Afghan citizen who has served the UK Government, or
  • you have limited leave to remain in the UK on the grounds of ‘respect for family or private life’ under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention and your leave doesn’t state that you should have ‘no recourse to public funds’.

You are not eligible for council housing if your immigration status means you have ‘no recourse to public funds’.

People who are not subject to immigration control

If you are a person from abroad who is not subject to immigration control, you are eligible for council housing in Wales if:

  • you are a classed as a ‘worker’ (or are a member of a worker’s family)
  • you are self employed (or a member of family of someone who is self-employed)
  • you, or a member of your family, have the right to stay here for other reasons

People from the European Economic Area (EEA) whose only right to reside in the UK is as a jobseeker, or who only have an initial right to reside for 3 months, are not eligible to apply for social housing. See our page on EU and EEA nationals for more information.

The council may contact the UK Visa and Immigration Centre if there is any doubt about your status.

UK citizens who have lived abroad

You may not be eligible to apply for council housing immediately if you have been living outside the UK, Eire, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man for a lengthy period. This is because councils can only provide housing for people who are classed as ‘habitually resident’. When they assess your application, the council will decide whether you are habitually resident, and will look at things like:

  • where you live
  • where you work
  • where you have family or friends
  • the reasons why you have come to live in the area
  • where you intend to live in future
  • whether you have been ‘habitually resident’ in the past.

If the council says that you’re not habitually resident, get advice. The decision could affect your entitlement to benefits as well as your rights to housing.

Transfer applicants

If you already have a secure, introductory or assured tenancy with a council or housing association, and are applying for a transfer, you are eligible regardless of your immigration status.

More advice

Immigration law is extremely complicated, so get advice before you apply for housing if you are not sure of your status:

Can past behaviour be taken into account?

You may not be eligible to go on the housing register if the council decides that you, or any member of your household, have been guilty of unacceptable behaviour in the past. This may happen if the council decides that you have done something serious enough to make you unsuitable to be a council tenant.

When they assess your behaviour, the council can look at anything that would mean that, if you were a secure council tenant, they would be able to take you to court and get an outright possession order to evict you. This may be the case if:

  • you have a history of serious rent arrears
  • you have broken a tenancy agreement in the past
  • you have caused nuisance or annoyance to your neighbours
  • you have used a property for illegal or immoral purposes (such as drug dealing or prostitution)
  • you have been guilty of domestic violence.

The council also has to be satisfied that it would be reasonable for a court to have made an outright possession order against you based on that behaviour.

If you, or a member of your household, has previously been convicted of:

  • a serious criminal offence (includes violence, sexual offence and those relating to drugs)
  • breached an anti-social behaviour order
  • breached a criminal behaviour order, or
  • breached a noise abatement notice

the council can decide that you have been guilty of unacceptable behaviour serious enough to make you unsuitable to be a tenant, and decide you are not eligible to go on the housing register.

It doesn’t matter if you were not actually a secure tenant of the council at the at the time of the behaviour.

In some cases, instead of deciding you are not eligible, the council may agree to put you on the housing register, but not give you any priority when deciding who to house.

What can I do if they say I am not eligible?

If you are in one of the situations outlined above, the council has no obligation to offer you a home.

The council should write to you explaining their decision and the reasons for it. They should also explain to you that you have a right to ask for the decision to be reviewed. They should explain it to you in person if they think that you might not be able to understand the decision.

Asking for a review

You can ask the council to look at your application again and review the decision. This might be worthwhile if you think your behaviour was not serious enough to mean you’re not eligible, or it happened so long ago that it shouldn’t count.

Applying for a judicial review

If the council didn’t follow the right legal procedure when they made a decision about your application, or when dealing with your review, then you might be able to challenge them in court by judicial review. For example, they may have ignored relevant information, such as how long you have been in the UK, or took things that shouldn’t affect their decision, such as non-housing debts, into account.

You will need specialist help from a solicitor if you want to challenge the council by judicial review.

Take a look at our page on challenging allocation decisions for more advice.

Making a fresh application

You can make a new application for the housing register if your circumstances change. This may be worthwhile if:

  • your immigration status changes after a time in the UK
  • you have paid off past rent arrears, or
  • you have not behaved in an unacceptable way for a long time, or the person guilty of that behaviour is no longer part of your household.

If the council do not let you apply again, then get advice.

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 08000 495 495.

Phone an adviser

If you have a housing problem, call our expert housing advice helpline
08000 495 495

Email an adviser

If you have a non-urgent problem and would like to speak to an adviser
email us

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This page was last updated on: December 2, 2020

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.