Council housing

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1. Apply for a council home

You apply for council housing through your local council. Each council has its own rules. You’ll usually have to join a waiting list and you’re not guaranteed to get a property. Ask your council how long you’re likely to have to wait. You can apply if you’re 18 or over (some councils let you apply if you’re 16 or over). You may be able to apply even if you don’t live in the area.

Waiting lists

Councils decide who gets offered housing based on a ‘points’ or ‘banding’ system. Points and bands are based on housing need. For example, you’re likely to be offered housing first if you:

  • are homeless
  • live in cramped conditions
  • have a medical condition made worse by your current home

Once you’re high enough on the list, your council will contact you about an available property.

Choice-based lettings

Some councils have a choice-based letting scheme. This lets you tell your council which properties you’re interested in. It depends on the council, but once you’ve been accepted onto the waiting list, the basic steps are:

  1. Find a property: check in local papers, on council websites, in council offices or in local libraries.
  2. Check you can apply for it: some properties are only suitable for single people, families or disabled people.
  3. Apply: this is known as ‘bidding’, but it doesn’t involve money. You can bid online, by phone or by text.
  4. Get the council’s decision.

Getting an offer

Normally you only have a short time to accept a housing offer. If you don’t accept it, you can usually stay on the waiting list (or bid for other properties), but you may be put lower down the list. You may be taken off the list temporarily if you keep rejecting offers. You can appeal if you’re not happy with your council’s decision.  

2. Types of tenancy

Your tenancy agreement is a legal document and tells you all the rules about living in your property. Different council tenants have different tenancies. These give you different rights and responsibilities.

Introductory tenancy

New council tenants may be offered an introductory tenancy. These usually last 12 months and are like a ‘trial’ period. You automatically become a secure or flexible tenant after 12 months, unless your council has either:

  • started action to evict you
  • extended your introductory tenancy for a further 6 months

There are limits to what you can do with an introductory tenancy, for example you can’t:

  • make major improvements to the property
  • swap your property with another council tenant
  • apply to buy your property through the Right to Buy scheme

Secure tenancy

As a secure tenant, you can normally live in the property for the rest of your life, as long as you don’t break the conditions of the tenancy. You can:

Scottish secure tenancy

You’ll usually have a Scottish secure tenancy if you rent your home from the council, a housing association or housing co-operative in Scotland.

Flexible tenancy

As a flexible tenant, you have tenancy for a fixed period. This is usually for at least 5 years, though in some cases it may be between 2 and 5 years. At the end of the fixed period the council may decide to:

  • offer you another fixed-term tenancy
  • offer you a secure tenancy
  • not renew your tenancy

They must explain their reasons if they decide not to renew your tenancy and give you a chance to challenge the decision. As a flexible tenant you can:

Joint tenancy

Under a joint tenancy, all the tenants share equal responsibility. You can apply for a joint tenancy at any time if you’re married or in a registered civil partnership. You must usually have lived together at the property for at least 12 months if you’re a cohabiting couple or related (like brother and sister).

Transferring your tenancy

Secure and flexible tenants may be able to transfer a tenancy to someone else, or, in some circumstances, pass on a tenancy to someone when they die. Secure tenancies granted before 1 April 2012 can be transferred or passed on only once. For example, if you take over a tenancy when someone dies, you can’t pass on the tenancy to someone else when you die. Some secure and flexible tenancies granted from 1 April 2012 may mean you can transfer or pass on your tenancy more than once – check your tenancy agreement. To transfer a tenancy, complete a ‘request to assign tenancy’ form, available from your local council’s housing department.

Ending your tenancy

Your tenancy can only be ended if:

  • you give the council 4 weeks’ notice in writing
  • the council evicts you
  • the council needs to move you, eg to redevelop the property – it should offer you a new property and a new tenancy with no less security

Secure tenancies can also end if:

  • the council needs to move you, eg to redevelop your property – it should offer you a new property and a new secure tenancy
  • you transfer your tenancy to someone else or swap homes

Ending joint tenancies

If only one of you wants to end the tenancy and the other joint tenant(s) wants to stay in the property, your council may:

  • give the remaining tenant(s) a new tenancy at the same property
  • not give them a new tenancy, eg because the property could be offered to another couple or family

If one joint tenant dies, the tenancy continues for the surviving tenant(s). If you and your partner divorce or your relationship breaks down and you can’t agree on who gets the tenancy, a court can decide this.  

3. Repairs and maintenance

You’re likely to be responsible for things like:

  • fixing a curtain or shower rail
  • getting keys cut if you lose them
  • arranging and paying for any damage you or your visitors have caused in your home to be put right

Your council is responsible for making sure:

  • the structure of your property is kept in good condition – this includes the walls, ceiling, roof and windows
  • gas and electricity appliances work safely
  • shared parts of a building or housing estate are kept in good condition

Your council will have a published policy setting out the timescales in which it will carry out different types of repairs. You should get several weeks’ warning of any work needed.

You can request a repair to your council property to fix an urgent problem.

Leaving your home

You may have to leave your home if major works are needed on the building. Your council must find you somewhere to live while work is carried out and pay for the cost of this. You may also get money from your council to pay for the cost of moving and the inconvenience it causes.

If council works damage your property

The council should repair any damage caused by maintenance or building work. You may be able to get a reduction in your rent if the repairs cause a lot of disruption.

Your own home improvements

The kind of improvements you can make to your council property depends on the type of tenancy you have. Introductory tenants are usually limited to minor improvements like redecorating inside. If you’re a secure tenant, you have the right to carry out improvements to your property. These include:

  • installing a new bathroom or kitchen
  • building an extension
  • putting up a garden shed or greenhouse
  • installing a new gas fire or fireplace
  • cavity wall insulation
  • redecorating the outside of a house
  • fitting an aerial or satellite dish
You might need your council’s written permission for work you do.

4. Complaints

Follow these steps if you have a problem with your council housing:

  1. Complain to your council – they should have a complaints policy that you can follow.
  2. Make a complaint to a ‘designated person’ (your MP, a local councilloror a tenant panel) if you can’t resolve the problem with your council.
  3. Contact the Housing Ombudsman if you and your council still can’t resolve the problem.
Housing Ombudsman Telephone: 0300 111 3000 Find out about call charges

5. Council housing fraud

You’re likely to lose your tenancy and you could lose your right to council housing in the future if you’re caught committing housing fraud.

You may be fined or sent to prison if the fraud is serious.

Housing fraud includes:

  • not telling the truth when applying for a property – eg claiming to have children when you don’t
  • sub-letting a property without permission
  • living in a property after someone has died without the right to do so

How councils check for housing fraud

Councils will check:

  • a tenant’s housing record against other records – eg Housing Benefit or the Electoral Roll
  • that the genuine tenant lives at the property – eg asking to see the tenant’s passport and tenancy agreement

Checks can happen at any time during a tenancy, without any warning.

Report suspected housing fraud

Most councils have a telephone number for people to report suspicious behaviour. You don’t have to give your name or address when reporting suspected fraud.  

6. Buy your council home

Under the Right to Buy scheme, you can apply to buy your council home if:

  • it’s your only or main home
  • it’s self-contained
  • you’re a secure tenant
  • you’ve had a public sector landlord for 5 years – eg a council, housing association or NHS trust