A Guide to Social Housing

How Do I Get a Social Rented Tenancy?

When you apply for a council or housing association housing, you have to fill in an application form.

When you make an application, you should ask if there is a common housing register in your area. This is a joint waiting list for housing from the council and from housing associations and cooperatives in your area.

Allocation polices

An allocation policy is the set of rules that a council and housing associations use to decide how to give out their housing. Each landlord has its own set of rules for allocating housing.

Allocation polices include:

  • Who can apply to join the waiting list

  • How the council or housing association decide who get priority on their waiting list.

  • Other rules including the transfer and exchanges of housing,

Allocation policies have to be made available to the public. Check the landlord’s website to see if you can download a copy.

Waiting lists

When you apply for housing, you will be added to a waiting list. Waiting lists don't work on a 'first come, first served' basis. Instead, the council or housing association will assess how much you need a new home, and prioritise applicants according to their need.

Many waiting lists use a points system to prioritise applications’. For example you will be awarded points if:

  • you are homeless, or threatened with homelessness

  • your current home is not suitable for you to live in

  • your current home is overcrowded

Check the allocation policy of the council or housing association to find out how they award points to applications.

How long will it take?

The length of time you'll have to wait will depend on:

  • how much housing there is in your area

  • how often vacancies come up

  • the number of priority points you've been awarded

  • how many applicants are ahead of you on the waiting list.

Make sure that your details are up-to-date and the landlord has your current address. If they write to you and you don't get back to them, they may remove you from the waiting list.

Choice based letting

Choice based letting is another way that councils and housing associations use to allocate housing. Under choice based lettings, the available properties are advertised and instead of adding your name to a waiting list, you bid for places where you would like to live and which are suitable for you.

If more than one person bids for a property, it will usually go to the person who has been waiting the longest. Some people may also have special priority because they are homeless or have health problems.

Offers of a property

Most councils and associations will only give you one offer of housing. So be careful if you are considering refusing an offer. You will probably only be able to refuse an offer if you have good reason that it's not suitable for you or your household.

If your council or housing association does have a policy of offering more than one property, you will have to refuse one before you are offered another; you won't be given a choice. In addition, you may have to tell them why you're turning the property down.

Last updated: 4 August 2020

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

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The council must help if you are homeless or likely to become homeless in the next two months.

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