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Applying for local authority housing

Introduction

Local authorities are the main providers of social housing or ‘housing authorities’ for people who cannot afford to buy their own homes. Local authority housing is allocated according to eligibility and need. Rents are based on the household’s ability to pay.

Housing associations (sometimes called 'voluntary housing' or 'voluntary housing associations') and housing co-operatives also provide social housing for people who cannot afford to buy their own homes.

Since 1 April 2011, the Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011 (pdf) prescribe how housing authorities should handle social housing applications. The original income thresholds were increased by the Social Housing Assessment (Amendment) Regulations 2011 (pdf).

Important changes brought in by these Regulations include:

  • You can only apply to one housing authority
  • In general, you must already be living in the area covered by that housing authority or have a local connection with the area – though a housing authority may agree to waive this requirement
  • You will only be considered for social housing if your household income is less than the threshold that applies in the housing authority’s area.

Since 1 July 2011, the Social Housing Assessment (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2011 (pdf) have made some changes to the rules. One of these changes allows for the unsustainability of a household’s current mortgage to be taken into consideration in assessing the household’s need for social housing - see 'Need' below.

Rules

In order to qualify, you must be eligible for social housing and you must be in need of social housing.

  • The housing authority will assess your eligibility first
  • It will only assess whether you need social housing after it has deemed you to be eligible

Foreign nationals: you must have a legal right to remain in the State on a long-term basis. Detailed rules are contained in Circular Housing 41/2012 (pdf).

Eligibility

To be regarded as eligible for social housing you must satisfy the income criteria.

You must also show that you do not have suitable alternative accommodation.

Income criteria:

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has published detailed guidance (pdf) on how household income is to be assessed by local authorities. There are 3 maximum income thresholds that apply to different housing authorities. The Department has published a table showing these maximum net income limits (pdf).

Alternative accommodation:

You will be regarded as having alternative accommodation if a member of the household has property that the household could reasonably be expected to live in. This includes property that is being rented out – (under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 you can terminate the tenancy if the household needs the property to live in.)

A property will not be regarded as alternative accommodation in the following cases:

  • It is occupied by someone who is divorced or separated*** from a member of the household, or whose civil partnership with a household member has been dissolved
  • It would be overcrowded if the household lived in it
  • It is unfit for human habitation
  • It would not adequately meet the accommodation requirements of a household member with a disability

****** A couple does not have to be judicially separated in order for this to apply. A deed of separation is sufficient – see our document on separation agreements.

Need

When deciding whether your household is in need of social housing the housing authority must consider the following questions in relation to your current accommodation:

  • Is it an institution, emergency accommodation or hostel?
  • Is it overcrowded?
  • Is it fit for human habitation?
  • Does it meet the accommodation requirements of a household member with a disability?
  • If it is shared with another household, have you a reasonable requirement for separate accommodation?
  • Is it unsuitable for your household’s adequate housing in any other material respect, having regard to particular household circumstances, or on exceptional medical or compassionate grounds?

And added by the Social Housing Assessment (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2011 (pdf)

Areas of choice

You can specify up to 3 areas where you would choose to live. At least one of them must be in the area administered by the housing authority that you apply to (its ‘functional area’) and the others must be either in that functional area or within the same county. If you do not live in or have a connection with the housing authority’s own functional area, but the authority has agreed to accept an application from you, you can only pick areas of choice within that particular authority’s functional area.

The Social Housing Assessment (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations update some of the detailed rules as regards areas of choice and changes of mind.

Housing waiting lists

If you are accepted by the housing authority as being eligible for and in need of housing, you are then placed on its waiting list, now known as a ‘record of qualified households’, and the housing authority will also notify any other housing authority in whose functional area you have specified an area of choice.

Each housing authority draws up its own rules for deciding order of priority on the waiting list. These are called ‘schemes of letting priorities’. You can get a copy from your housing authority. Some housing authorities operate a points system, giving each household on the list a number of points depending on its circumstances.

If you want to know your position on the waiting list, ask your housing authority. Your position may go up or down depending on the circumstances of other people on the waiting list and as your own circumstances change. In practice, priority is generally given to families and older people rather than single people or couples without children.

Allocation of housing

As houses and flats become available for letting, they are allocated from the waiting list in order of priority, taking account of all the relevant circumstances.

When the housing 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 as regards connection with the area and selection of ‘area of choice’.

If you are offered a house or flat that you do not want, you can refuse it. 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 waiting list, particularly if you refuse more than one offer.

Local authority housing is unfurnished. If you are offered a local authority home and you do not have and cannot afford to buy furniture or appliances, you may be eligible for help from the Department of Social Protection's representative (formerly known as the Community Welfare Officer) in your local health centre.

Refusal to allocate housing

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 has:

  • (a) Damaged a dwelling or site previously provided by any housing authority, without repairing the property or paying for repairs

or

  • (b) Breached the terms of a local authority tenancy agreement, leading to the authority ending the tenancy

or

  • (c) 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, the Social Housing Assessment (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations allow housing authorities, in exceptional circumstances, to consider providing social housing support to households in situations (a) or (b) above.

Eligibility for other housing measures

Once you are registered on the housing list, you may be eligible for other housing measures, for example, housing association homes, a low-cost housing site, improvement works in lieu of local authority housing, a local authority improvement loan, or a local authority mortgage.

Under the Incremental Purchase Scheme, you can apply to buy a new house from the local authority or an approved housing body at a discount.

If you are in private rented accommodation while waiting for local authority housing, you may be eligible for Rent Supplement.

Rents

Local authority rents are based on a system called 'differential rents'. This means that the rent is based on your ability to pay, so if your income is low, your rent will be low; and if your income increases, so will your rent. The income of any other members of your household will be added to the rent calculation and there may be deductions for any children in your family. Each local authority operates its own rent scheme.

Your local authority may have a minimum and/or maximum rent, which may depend on the size of your home. There is also a hardship clause that gives local authorities discretion to reduce the rent if there are particular reasons to do this.

If your income or the income of anyone in your household changes, you must inform the local authority.

How to apply

To apply for local authority housing, contact the Housing Department of your local authority. For accommodation provided by a housing association, apply directly to the relevant housing association.

Page updated: 21 March 2014

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Contact Us

If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.