Social housing waiting lists

What are social housing waiting lists?

Local authorities keep a record of people who are qualified for social housing support and who have not received it. As social housing becomes available, the local authority allocates it to people who are on its record of qualified households. The record of qualified households is more commonly known as the social housing waiting list.

Before offering you accommodation, the local authority reviews its assessment of your application for social housing support and confirms that your household still qualifies. Local authorities must also review all applications on their housing lists every year and prepare a summary report detailing the number of people on the list in the area.

As well as the main housing lists, local authorities also maintain lists of people who have applied for a transfer from their current accommodation. There is also a transfer list for people on the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) who want to be considered for social housing.

How does the social housing waiting list work?

Getting on the social housing list

When you apply for social housing, the local authority assesses your application to see if your household qualifies for social housing. If you qualify, you’re placed on the social housing waiting list. If you have listed an ‘area of choice’ in your application that is in another local authority area, your local authority will notify the other local authority of this.

While you are on the housing list

Each local authority draws up its own rules for deciding the order of priority on their social housing waiting list. These are called housing allocation schemes and are published on the local authority’s website.

Most local authorities prioritise people who have been on the waiting list the longest. They may also operate a points system, giving each household on the list a number of points depending on their circumstances.

Your position may go up or down on the list depending on the circumstances of other people on the list and if your own circumstances change. In practice, priority is generally given to families and older people rather than single people or couples without children.

Local authorities also have specific waiting lists for:

  • Older person accommodation (generally for people over 55 years)
  • People who are homeless
  • Traveller-specific accommodation

If your circumstances change while on the waiting list

If your circumstances change while you are on the list, you should tell the local authority so they can update your household’s record. For example, if you have a new baby or someone leaves your household. You should also tell your local authority if your address changes.

How to find out where you are on the waiting list

If you want to know your position on the housing list, you can ask your local authority. You can also ask your local authority to give you an estimate of the waiting time for a home.

Renting privately while waiting for social housing

If you are in private rented accommodation while waiting for local authority housing, you may qualify for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). If you are housed under HAP, your housing need will have been met and you will no longer be on the local authority’s housing list. However, if you still want to be considered for social housing you can apply to be placed on the local authority's transfer list.

If you apply for a transfer within 2 weeks of getting the letter confirming your HAP payment, any time that you spent on the housing list can be taken into account when your local authority considers your application. If you apply for a transfer at a later date, the time that you previously spent on the housing list will not count.

How are social homes allocated?

In general, as houses and apartments become available, they are allocated from the housing list in order of priority. However, local authorities can also allocate a portion of their social housing using a system of choice-based letting, see below.

When the local authority is planning to offer you accommodation, it must review its assessment of your household’s eligibility and need for social housing. It must also confirm that your application is still valid, for example, it will check that you still have a connection with the area.

If you have chosen to be considered for accommodation provided by a housing association or other approved housing body (by ticking the 'approved housing body (AHB)' box on the social housing application form) one of these organisations may contact you if suitable accommodation becomes available.

Can I refuse an offer of a home?

If you are offered a house or apartment that you do not want, you can refuse it without affecting your place on the housing list. However, if the local authority thinks that you do not have a good reason for refusing the offer, it may reduce your priority on the list.

If you refuse more than one reasonable offer in any 12-month period, you will be suspended from the list for 12 months, during which you cannot claim Rent Supplement.

What is choice based letting?

Local authorities can allocate some of their social housing using a different system called Choice Based Letting (CBL). This is an online system which lets local authorities advertise some of their social housing so approved social housing applicants can express their interest in the available properties.

Not all local authorities us the CBL system. If they do, they will advertise CBL properties online when they are available. The properties can be viewed on the local authority’s website. They may also be advertised in the media.

The advertisements include information about:

  • The location of the home
  • The type of home, for example, a two-bedroom apartment
  • The type of household that can apply for the home, for example, a single-person household
  • The floor plan or photographs of the home
  • The house rules
  • The closing date for expressing your interest in the property (this is usually a few weeks)

Local authorities can restrict CBL applications to qualified people who selected the location of the advertised property as an area of choice on their social housing application. The property advertisement will state if this restriction applies.

If you want to express your interest in a CBL property, the advertisement will provide information about how to apply. You can also contact your local authority for information.

If a number of qualified people express an interest in a CBL home, the home will be allocated in line with the local authorities’ allocation scheme.

If you are offered a house or apartment under the CBL system and you refuse it, you will not be able to apply for a CBL property for 12 months. This will not affect your position on the housing list.

For more information about choice-based letting contact your local authority.

Can my local authority refuse to allocate me a house?

If you or a member of your household has previously been in local authority housing, the housing authority will not allocate housing to you if you or a household member have:

  • Damaged a property previously provided by a housing authority, without repairing the property or paying for repairs
  • Breached the terms of a local authority tenancy agreement, leading to the authority ending the tenancy
  • Built up rent arrears for 12 weeks or more in any period of 3 years as a local authority tenant, without either paying them off or arranging to pay them

However, in exceptional circumstances local authorities can consider providing social housing support to households in the first two situations outlined above. This is outlined in the Social Housing Assessment (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2011.

Summary of social housing assessments

Every year, each local authority must prepare a summary of the social housing assessments carried out in its area. They contact all households on their housing lists to confirm that they still qualify for social housing support. They also request up-to-date information about income, family size and current housing conditions.

It is important for all households to respond to the local authority with the details requested. If your address has changed since you went on the housing list, you should contact the local authority and give your current address. provide the most recent Summary of Social Housing Assessments.

Where to apply

For more information about the social housing waiting list, or if you have any queries about the summary of social housing assessments, contact your local authority.

Page edited: 19 December 2023