Council and Social Housing
Social housing is housing that is either owned and maintained by the local council (in this case, it is sometimes referred to as ‘council housing’), or by a not-for-profit housing association.
What this means is that:
- Rents are usually cheaper than the private rental market rates
- There is greater long term security in that the properties are less likely to be sold on by the landlords, or tenants given notice
- There’s no problem if a tenant will need to rely on benefits to pay for rent, and fewer financial background checks required than for private rentals
See Shelter’s guides on this area for more information, as we only provide a short summary here. For England, the guides can be found at: https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/council_housing_association; there are equivalent guides for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The description below refers to the process for England in the interests of keeping it brief.
Are Ukrainian refugees eligible to apply for council / social housing?
Note that Ukrainian refugees are eligible to apply for social housing on arrival in the UK. This is because their visa types allow them recourse to public funds from day 1 of their arrival in the UK. They do not need to meet ‘habitual residence’ rules about how long they have been in the UK before they can apply. See https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/council_housing_association/who_is_eligible_to_apply_for_council_housing for an explanation. Some councils may not be aware of this rule for Ukrainians, so you may need to tell them about it.
The relevant text from Shelter’s webpage is:
Some people do not have to be habitually resident. For example, if you have:
- leave to remain with recourse to public funds because of war in Ukraine or Afghanistan
There are then some local rules that each council may have around who can apply to join their housing register (see https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/council_housing_association/how_to_apply_for_council_housing/who_can_join_the_housing_register). For example: “Some councils say that you must have lived or worked in the area for a certain time.” If you are then prevented from applying for council or social housing by the council on the basis that you have not been in their local area long enough, we advise you contact the council’s refugee support team and ask them to challenge this, as such a criteria does not make sense for a Ukrainian arrival, who is otherwise eligible to apply as above.
For example, one local council, which normally operates a 1 year minimum timeframe before you can apply to go on their housing register, has recognised this does not make sense for a Ukrainian arrival who has not had a chance to live anywhere else in the UK, and has waived this condition.
However, if the council has further local rules about who can apply, it may not be worth applying if you do not meet these.
How to apply for council / social housing
The first step is to apply to go on your local council’s housing register (or waiting list). Each council has a different process, so get in touch with their Housing Department (which may be called different names for different councils) to ask how to apply. Shelter has provided a useful link to enter your postcode and find your local council’s information page here: https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/council_housing_association/how_to_apply_for_council_housing
Councils may have local rules which restrict who can go onto their housing register, for example, they may only accept the minimum types required by law. See https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/council_housing_association/how_to_apply_for_council_housing/who_can_join_the_housing_register for more details. It would be best to confirm whether or not you are eligible first before applying.
When you apply to go on the register, your application will be reviewed by the council. They will decide whether or not you can be accepted, and if accepted, they will also assign you a priority based on your circumstances (such as whether members of your household are disabled and need more suitable accommodation). This means that you are on the waiting list for any available properties, and your assigned priority may mean you are higher on this list than people who applied before you, but who have been assigned a lower priority.
After you have been accepted onto the housing register, you may either have to:
- Check the council website for available properties to come up, and to bid for these (if the council operates by ‘choice-based lettings’), or
- Wait for the council to contact you with a suitable property (if the council operates by ‘direct offers’)
See https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/council_housing_association/how_to_apply_for_council_housing/bidding_and_offers for more information. If you are lucky enough to be offered a suitable property, be very careful about turning it down!
How to answer the questions on the housing application form if you are a Ukrainian refugee
The forms may have some questions that you need to answer, which won’t have been updated to take Ukrainians into account. Here, we have consulted with the Head of Housing at our local council to establish what to answer if you are here under the Homes for Ukraine, Ukraine Family or Ukraine Extension visa schemes. Remember that you are not refugees or asylum seekers. You are here under temporary protection, and have full recourse to public funds.
Thhe exact wording may vary from council to council, but as a guide, you should answer ‘NO’ to questions worded like this:
- Are you or anyone else on this application form applying for asylum?
- Are you or anyone in your household under any restriction on claiming funds in the UK, such as no recourse to public funds, or under a sponsor arrangement?
- Are you or anyone in your household been granted refugee status, indefinite leave to remain without condition or limitation or limited leave to remain?
- Are you or your partner from a country within the European Economic Area (EEA) living the UK for the purposes of work only?
For the question such as ‘what basis do you occupy the property’, if you are here under the Homes for Ukraine, you should select ‘lodger’, and if you are here on the Family scheme, you should select ‘staying with family’.
If you are here under Homes for Ukraine, you should put your host’s name, address and contact details under any section which asks for the landlord or landlady’s address. If you are here under the Family visa scheme, you should put the name, address and contact details of the family member you are staying with (for Family scheme) in these sections.
If you need to give a reason for homelessness, say that ‘I am being evicted / asked to leave where I am staying’. You can select that you have been ‘given a letter from your landlord asking you to leave’.
Forms will often ask for an address history which is usually 5 years. It is fine to put your addresses in Ukraine; the form is not expecting 5 years history in the UK.
Your chances of getting council / social housing
In some parts of the country, there are very long waiting lists for the available properties. One London council quoted 9000 applicants on a waiting list for 250 properties. So by doing the maths, typically you would be waiting many years, and such long term options aren’t realistic.
Even if you have priority considerations, then you may still have a low chance of getting social housing.
However, in other parts of the country, there may be a good availability of properties. Your local council may be able to advise if there are other parts of the country they can arrange a transfer to, if you are willing to be flexible.
We do not recommend relying on social housing alone as your housing solution in areas with many applicants and few properties.
Sheltered housing for over 55s
Councils and housing associations may have social housing allocations known as ‘sheltered housing’, which is only available for over 55s. With such accommmodation, there may be a warden on the site that can be reached in case of problems, communal areas and so on. There will still be a waiting list and allocations based on priority needs.