As the housing crisis worsens and house prices continue to soar, council housing can be the best option for some people. The application process can be daunting, but don’t let it put you off as we’ve put together a guide with what you need to do and some tips to a successful application.
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The process, the waiting list length, and the criteria vary slightly from council to council. Maybe you already have an idea of where you’d like to live, and that’s great. However, you may want to take into account a few of these factors, as they will change how long you’re likely to have to wait to be housed.
How long is the waiting list already? Some places have far longer waiting lists and so you may have to wait months or even years before you can get a council house.
What are the criteria in your local area? Different councils prioritise needs in different ways. Look for councils whose criteria suits your needs.
Do you have a connection to the local area? Some councils require you to have a connection to the local area (usually defined as having lived there for a while before), whilst in others it can gain you a better place in the waiting list.
Remember that you can be on the waiting lists for more than one council at once, and it is advisable to try a few to maximise your chances of getting housed quickly.
Check your eligibility
The important criteria that councils decide your eligibility with are:
Age. Most adults are able to apply for council housing, and you can make an application singularly or jointly as a couple (married or otherwise). Some councils let you apply from the age of 16, but most set the age limit as 18.
Immigration status. You don’t have to be a UK citizen to apply for council housing. Most people from the EU, having worked in the UK for a while, can apply for council housing, and so can people with long-term or indefinite right to stay (including refugees). If you have short-term on no right to stay in the UK, you cannot apply for housing in the UK.
Where you live or have lived. Councils may only let people with a connection to the local area (a previous residency) apply for council housing, and people with a short term or limited visa to stay in the UK may not be eligible. You also may have to wait to apply if you have been living outside of the UK and therefore fail the test of being a ‘habitual resident’, which tests:
where you live and work
where your family or friends are
the reasons why you have come to live in the area
where you intend to live in future
if you had been habitually resident in the UK in the past
Fill out the application form
If you’ve followed step 2 closely, you already know you are eligible for council housing, so the main purpose of the form is to assess your priority and give you a place on the waiting list or a band. The form will give you a chance to tell the council about you and your family’s special needs, such as medical needs and mobility requirements. It will also assess your need to be removed from your current housing situation by asking about:
Experiences of violence or harassment
If you have difficulty with filling out the form, for example because English isn’t your first language, your council is required to help you.
Decide on where you would like to live within the council
There will also be a question about your preferred areas for rehousing. Whilst it might be tempting to choose only your favourite streets, it is advisable that you tick as many areas as possible, as this mean you are more likely to be offered a house. Don’t tick any areas that you really don’t want to live in however, because turning down offers can hinder your chances of getting more offers in the future.
Unfortunately, this will be the step that takes the longest. The wait depends very much on your priority or on the band that you’ve been placed in, the type of accommodation you require, as well as the council you’ve chosen. Here’s an example of the wait times you can expect from a typical UK council website, based on all their lettings in 2017:
Rather than sending offers, some councils have a bidding system. Housing association and council properties will be listed online or in leaflets available at your local library and, if you like them, you bid for them and then the council picks from the applicants who gets the accommodation. If you are with a council who uses this kind of system, ask your council about the rules and procedures, because councils vary on how many houses you can apply for at once and also whether you are required to take any house you have successfully bid for.
7. Receive an offer
When you receive an offer the council will give you a short time to decide whether to accept or not. Choose carefully though because if you are on a waiting list system and refuse an offer, you may be moved down the list, and if you are on a bidding system you may be suspended from making further bids.
8. Update your application
If your situation changes, and your current accommodation becomes even less suitable, for example if you have another child or a medical condition worsens, then update your council. You may be moved up the waiting list or be allocated a different band.
Common questions people ask
Although councils vary on who they prioritise for housing, they are required to prioritise people who:
are homeless or are threatened with homelessness
live in unsanitary or overcrowded housing
need to move for medical or welfare reasons
need to be near specialist medical or educational facilities
The council is required to explain their reasons for refusal and, if you disagree with their reasons, you can appeal a decision made by the council. You can also apply again if your circumstances change.
The government website states this about the discounts available to those who have lived in their council house for more than 3 years and wish to use the right to buy: “You get a 35% discount if you’ve been a public sector tenant for between 3 and 5 years. After 5 years, the discount goes up by 1% for every extra year you’ve been a public sector tenant, up to a maximum of 70% – or £78,600 across England and £104,900 in London boroughs (whichever is lower).”
You cannot buy a council house if you have lived there for less than three years.
You can apply for housing benefit whether or not you are employed, but you must not have savings of over £16,000. If you are in a cohabiting couple, only one of you can apply for housing benefit. Other considerations include being on a low income or unemployed and whether you currently pay rent. You will also only be eligible for bedsit or house share accommodation if you are single and under 35.
Most of the time you can only rent from a housing association if you can prove that you are on the council’s waiting list for social housing.
If you have used the right to buy to buy your council house at a discount, then you will have to repay that discount if you sell the house within 5 years.
Tenancy agreements for council houses vary, but if you are on a flexible tenancy you may rent out a room in your council house, but you are not allowed to sub-let the entire property.
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