Applying for social housing

Check if you'll get priority on the housing list

When you apply for social housing, you’ll be added to a waiting list. You'll get higher priority on the list if you have urgent housing needs.

Each council and housing association has its own rules about how priority is decided, but there are some things they must always take into account.

If you've applied for social housing, you have the right to know about your priority. Use our letter template to ask how long you can expect to wait.

How the priority system works

Your priority is usually set using either a points system or a banding system, or a combination of both.

In a points system, you get points for each reason why you need a home. The more points you have, the more quickly you should be offered a home.

In a banding system, the council or housing association puts you in a priority group, called a band, based on your housing needs. Sometimes there’s a set amount of housing for each band.

Check the allocations policy

Each council or housing association has an allocations policy that explains how your points or band will be decided. They must give you a copy of this policy if you ask for it.

When you must get priority

By law, you must get a reasonable level of priority if:

  • you’re homeless or threatened with homelessness – this includes if you do not have a legal right to stay in your current home

  • your home is overcrowded – this means there are not enough rooms for the number of people who live there

  • your home is unsuitable to live in – for example, if it does not have adequate water, cooking or heating facilities

The council or housing association can also consider what other housing options are available to you when deciding your priority.

When you may get priority

Depending on the allocations policy, you could also get higher priority if you need to move for:

  • disability or medical reasons – for example, if you need a home that’s adapted for you, or you want to move closer to a clinic where you get regular treatment

  • social care reasons – for example, if you’re leaving care, hospital or prison, or you have other community care needs

  • safety reasons – for example, if you’re at risk of harassment or domestic abuse in your current home

  • family or work reasons – for example, if you want to move closer to your workplace or you need to care for a relative

They may consider other things as well, such as:

  • how long you've been on the waiting list

  • whether you have a connection to the local area

Things that cannot affect your priority

Council and housing associations are not allowed to take these things into account when deciding your priority:

  • your income

  • how long you’ve lived in the area

  • your age, except for housing that’s specifically designed for people of a particular age

If you think you've been given the wrong priority

You have the right to appeal using the complaints process.

Use our letter template to challenge a social housing application decision, and follow our guidance for:

Check your other housing options

If you do not have priority for social housing, you could be on the waiting list for a long time. You could try:

Last updated: 19 January 2023

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England

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