Applying for social housing in UK
May 13, 2007 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Explanation of social housing in UK


I'm trying to find an explanation of how to apply for social housing in the UK. Could someone please give me an overview of the system? I'd also appreciate a brief explanation of how the following fit into the overall system:

-Housing benefit (can you only apply for this if you're a council tenant?)
-Council housing
-Applying to the council as a homeless person

Thanking you in aniticipation.

posted by Tnuocca to Work & Money (5 answers total)
What part of the UK; that could be important since Scotland is so different now.
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:29 AM on May 13, 2007

OK, there is very widespread regional and local variation - every local authority runs things differently. So for a precise answer, we'd need to know where you are.

1. Housing benefit is allocated according to your income status and the size of your family. Are you unemployed? Are you on income support? If you are eligible for income support, you may be eligible for Housing Benefit if you have the National Insurance contributions. first apply for income support - that's really the bedrock of benefits.

2. Registering as homeless or in housing need is a dreadful system to have to go through. Basically, councils will do everything in their power to stop you from being put on the housing register - the most common reasons are that you have made yourself "voluntarily homeless" (they can claim this in all sorts of unfair circumstances) or that you are not local to the authority. If you have not lived in the area very long it may be worth moving to the place you were brought up, and so on.

3. If you make it onto a housing register, you then are put onto a housing waiting list. If you're single, and in a big city, you might not have to wait long; but you will have to wait, and you can wait months or years. You may have to accept the first place that is offered to you, or be dumped back to the bottom of the list.

It's really a sprawling and nightmarishly complicated bureaucracy, designed to deter people. Local authorities all apply the rules differently and have different systems - without knowing more about the nature of your need and where you are, it's tricky to give advice.
posted by WPW at 9:08 AM on May 13, 2007

Useful overviews here and here.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:37 AM on May 13, 2007

The set up is basically this, with a great many frills and codicils: The UK is divided into many local authorities - "councils" -- which are responsible for local delivery of certain services. One of these is state housing.

The council owns a large (though vastly diminished in recent years) number of homes, and rents them out to tenants, often for way below market rates. If it doesn't own them itself, it often has a controlling stake in a private company set up to own them.

To get one of them, you put yourself on a waiting list the council runs, and then wait. Single people get moved quite quickly, people with children faster still.

If your wages are below a certain, very low, level or you live on state benefits such as disability or unemployment benefit, you can also have your rent (for a council or private) house paid for you. This is called Housing benefit, and is relatively simple to apply for, but the checks are a bit tight. If you're in this position, you're also likely to have most of your council tax (a tax paid to the council, not the state) waived.

Applying to the council as a homeless person is more difficult. In theory, this puts you right to the top of the list for council accomodation, and they also have a duty to put certain classes of people -- those with families, mainly -- immediately into temporary accomodation like a hotel or motel. This costs them, and they will make it pretty difficult for you to get on this list.

HOWEVER: All of the above is pretty much only true for UK nationals. Your profile doesn't say where you're from, but if you don't already know all this, you might not be British. In that case it's going to be massively more difficult, and you will not be eligble for 99% of the benefits I talked about. It is possible to do, but turning up in the UK without somewhere to live is a Bad Idea, and not recommended.
posted by bonaldi at 10:12 AM on May 13, 2007

As already said, council housing options depends on a lot on where you live, as Local Authorities pretty much decide for themselves how they meet their obligations to provide housing. Housing benefit (and council tax benefit which you'd apply for at the same time) is administered by the local authority according to the DWP's rules, and can be for private-rented, as well as council/social housing (but not mortgage payments). Depending on your circumstances and the rent assessment etc, it may not cover your full rent, especially if you're under 25.

"Social housing" may be council housing, or the landlord may be a not-for-profit Registered Social Landlord/Housing Association. Some Local Authorities these days are floating off their housing stock into Housing Associations. The advantages of these over private landlords include that they have some codes of practice to protect their tenants, and may be cheaper. They usually have waiting lists and allocation policies, like for council housing.

Your local council will have a duty to provide you emergency housing, if you can pass the 5 homelessness tests. If you are applying in this way, make it clear that you are applying as homeless, not just asking to be put on the council house waiting list. Even if you qualify for emergency housing, and some is available, it may be some poor quality hostel, say. Getting into an actual council house will generally mean waiting to get to the top of the list, based on whatever points/allocation scheme the local council use.

Ring Shelter and/or your local authority for proper advice on all this (or better yet visit the council's Housing Needs office, as homelessness applications may have to be made in person anyway).
posted by wilko at 10:31 AM on May 13, 2007

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