01. Your Right to Housing
This section is divided into two parts.
Different laws apply to different types of housing.
1) Private Renting
There is no legal right to get rented property from a private landlord.
If a landlord has reason to believe that you do not understand the basics of the tenancy agreement that is being offered they do not have to deal with you.
Private landlords are also within their rights not to deal with you if you don't have enough money to pay what they are asking for. Many private landlords will not be prepared to rent to people on benefits, and this is perfectly legal.
Example 1. Norman has Down's syndrome and goes into an estate agent's because he wants to rent a flat they have advertised in the window. He wants something permanent but the estate agent cannot make him understand that all their flats are for short term lets only. The estate agent tells Norman that they can't help him.
For more information see section 05. of this guide, Your Right to Fair Treatment.
There is no legal right to get accommodation from private landlords or to borrow money for mortgages.
Private renting or buying relies on a willing landlord or lender.
2) Buying and Shared Ownership
Unless you have a very large amount of money available any sort of buying will require borrowing from a bank or a building society.
There is no legal right to getting a loan from banks or building societies, and they will require substantial deposits and/or proof of income buying lending money.
People with disabilities may often be at a disadvantage when trying to get insurance cover for borrowing.
If your income consists of benefits it can be difficult to get help towards covering your mortgage. There are a small number of schemes which help people with long-term disabilities and you will need extra help to find a mortgage.
You can contact Housing Options direct for up-to-date information on this.
Call the Housing Options Advice Line on 0845 456 1497 or email email@example.com.
3) Social Housing and Supported Housing
People are offered 'Social Housing' either because they have registered on the council's list, or they have been re-housed after becoming homeless.
(a) Council 'waiting lists'
Most people who have a need for housing are entitled to apply to local councils to register their name on the council's housing lists. Sometimes you can apply to more than one council, e.g. if your current address is in one council area and you have relatives living in another council area. Councils sometimes close or cut back their lists if there is no real possibility of people getting an offer.
Example 2. Norman lives in Whitestone District Council area, renting a room from a family. His parents live 5 minutes walk away in Blackfield Council area. He checks both councils and can go on two lists; Whitestone Council because he lives there, and Blackfield's because their rules say you can go on their list if you have next of kin in the area.
However, when people apply to Blackfield, they get a lot more points if they live in the area. Blackfield Council's housing officer tells Norman he is welcome to go on their list but won't ever be likely to get enough points to qualify for an offer of housing.
However, going on a list (or register) is a very different thing from being offered accommodation, and the huge number of people on council housing registers means that most of them will never get rented accommodation in this way. Being on the register does not give you a right to accommodation; in practice your chance of being offered anything off these lists depends on whether your situation fits with the priorities the council looks at; whether any suitable accommodation ever becomes available in the area you are looking at and whether you get any help with the council's system.
For example, many councils operate a 'Choice-based lettings' scheme which means you need access to a computer and need to be able to make quick decisions about which properties you bid for. For more information on this see the Shelter website.
How can I make sure the council considers my application properly?
Councils often give priority to people with medical problems or in unusually difficult situations.
Council lists are ways of comparing different applicants' housing needs.
If you want to check whether your application is being given the right priority, you need to look at the system the council has for deciding where you are on their list. Most councils have a points or a banding system.
If you feel you have not been given enough points or you have not been put on the right band, ask the council to look at your application again.
If you have disabilities and the system takes these or health problems into account, check you have been given the right consideration for this. If you have not been given the right priority you can complain to the council.
If your application has been assessed correctly but you feel the rules of the list are wrong, you should take this up with a local councillor. Councils have a wide discretion on how they run these lists, but are required by law to promote the welfare of disabled people generally. See more on this in section 05. of this guide, Your Right to Fair Treatment.
Example 3. Norman applies to his local housing department to go on the register. He lives with his parents and has epilepsy and a learning disability.
When he gets a letter from them he is told that he has no priority and that he gets no extra points because of his epilepsy and disability. He doesn't think this is fair and goes to see his local councillor. The councillor tells him that medical points are given by the council's medical officer, and that he will bring up the possibility of extra points because of disability at the housing committee.
If you do not have anywhere to stay, or are faced with homelessness, you can apply to the council's housing department for emergency help.
The law here is the Homeless Persons Act 2002, which has a Code of Guidance which says how the law should happen in practice.
If you are in 'priority need' and not homeless because of any fault of your own, then it may be that you have a legal right to be housed by the council.
It is not always that simple. The council may decide you are not in 'priority need', as this depends on an opinion about how vulnerable you are. The question of whether you are homeless through your own fault can also be more complicated than people might expect.
If you have specific care and support needs, a housing department may feel that anything they offer might not be the right answer to your housing problem. In this case they may liaise with social services so you can be placed in residential care or supported housing. See section 10.12 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance.
A council is only obliged to take an application for re-housing on grounds of homelessness if they believe you have the legal capacity to make the application, and that you will understand the offer of accommodation that is made to you.
Example 4. Ms Begum is 23 and severely disabled, living with her parents. Her father applied to the council for re-housing but was refused because the council said he was intentionally homeless.
An application under the Homeless Persons Act was made in Ms Begum's name but still refused. She went to court, and the court said the council was right. The Court said the duty to offer accommodation was only owed to people who had the capacity to understand and respond to the offer.
Even if the council decides you are not entitled to re-housing they still have a duty to provide advice and assistance to help you try to find somewhere to live refer to section 14.10 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance.
A local authority has to act carefully when making these sort of judgements. This was highlighted in a recent Ombudsman case (against Cardiff City Council) in which the Ombudsman decided that the Council had been guilty of maladministration when refusing to take an application from someone they deemed to lack capacity. Two of the various reasons in which they were at fault were (1) they did not adhere to the Mental Capacity Act rules when deciding the applicant lacked capacity and (2) as soon as they did decide the person lacked capacity they should have liaised with social services so that duties to accommodate under the 1948 National Assistance Act could be investigated.
In practice many local authorities will be prepared to help homeless people with disabilities, focussing on their vulnerability rather than using questionable caselaw to claim a lack of duty to rehouse.
For more help and advice on this see the Housing Options Quick Brief on the subject.
Shelter also have information on this and regional offices with advisors.
Your rights if you feel the council is wrong
The Homeless Persons Act gives you the right to request a review of most important decisions the council might make on your application, e.g. whether they have to re-house you; whether they are going to refer you to another council; whether any accommodation they offer you is suitable etc.
Example 5. Norman, who is 35 and has a learning disability has been told to move out of his room in two weeks. He goes to the council and is told that they don't help single people.
Norman says that he is vulnerable because of his disability. The council say he has found his own place in the past and do so again. He feels they are wrong and asks them to review this decision to refuse him help.
This review has to be carried out within fixed time scales.
If you feel the review is wrong you can appeal to the County Court.
If you feel the council has looked at your application wrongly and that you have suffered because of this, you can also complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.
For more information on this, see section 19 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance. If you want to read what the Code of Guidance says about vulnerable people, see sections 10.16 and 10.31.
Many councils and Registered Social Landlords (RSL's) have supported housing for people with learning disabilities.
However, as with councils' ordinary housing lists there is no straightforward right to be housed in such schemes.
The way people are offered supported housing will vary from one council area to another. To find out what the process is for getting this sort of housing, you will need to contact your local housing department or social services to find out.
Example 6. Norman, who is trying to get somewhere to live from the council, asks the homelessness officer about some nearby flats for people with learning disabilities which are rented by a housing association.
The officer tells him that people are only referred to these by social services, and that Norman should talk with a social worker about this.
Social services have some legal duties to ensure that disabled people have somewhere to live.
Social Service departments have obligations under law to make sure that people with disabilities are housed if they do not otherwise have anywhere to stay. This is different law from the Homeless Persons Act, and is covered by the National Assistance Act 1948.
If you have a right to this sort of help, social services can either arrange somewhere for you in a residential care home, or by organizing other accommodation that does not necessarily have to be in a care home. For example, it could be in supported housing, or an adult placement.
If you do not have the capacity to make a decision for yourself about where you want to live, social services have still got to consult with you and your carers to decide what your best interests are.
What are my rights where I am living now?
Your right to stay in your home will depend on the legal nature of your occupation there and the landlord's right to get the property back.
Your rights as an occupier will depend on the legal nature of your occupation. For example, as an owner you will be either a freeholder, owning your house and the land, but there will usually still be rules you have to keep to: maintaining your fences, not being a nuisance to neighbours etc.
If you are a tenant, your rights will depend on a mixture of the things your tenancy agreement say and what the law says. In brief, your rights will be that you can use the accommodation as your home as long as you stick to the rules of the tenancy, e.g. paying your rent, not annoying the neighbours, not damaging the property etc.
If a landlord (whether it is a private landlord or an social landlord) wants to get you out of the property, then you can usually insist on staying until a court tells you to leave.
Whether you have any grounds for arguing the point will depend on the type of tenancy you have or the reason the landlord wants you out.
If you have been asked to leave, you will need proper advice. You should contact a local advice service, your council's housing department or Shelter.
If you don't have a tenancy, for example if you are living in a care home then you will have no rights of occupation apart from the right not to be evicted without reasonable notice. This does not give you any real right to stay in the place. However, if your fees are being paid in part or full by social services, they will have a contract with the care home owner which mean that social services may be able to help you.
Your rights if the landlord isn't doing their job
You have a right to insist that the landlord keeps their side of the tenancy contract and acts as the law requires. What help is available for this depends on the type of landlord.
If a private landlord has not done repairs that are their responsibility you can ask for help from the council's Environmental Health Department. For information on this, check with your local council.
If you rent from a council or a social landlord (RSL) you can ask for their repairs policy and use their complaints process if they have not kept to this policy.
You may have a right to do your own repairs, depending on the type of tenancy you have. Check with your council or local advice service before you do this.
Example 7. Mary rents a flat from Sixoaks Housing Association, an RSL. Her boiler has been broken for two months and she has rung up their office every Monday to leave messages about this. Nothing has happened except a housing officer called 3 weeks ago and said she'd sort it out.
Mary goes to the CAB and asks if she can use her rent money to mend the boiler. She is told that she might be able to argue later that she is not in arrears if she used the rent doing the landlord's job, but that it's safer to use the landlord's complaints system and then go to the Housing Ombudsman if it's still not sorted.
There is a Housing Ombudsman who can look at complaints from council and RSL tenants. You must use the landlord's own complaints process first.
Do I have a right to move?
The only time people are obliged by law to stay in a particular place is either if they are convicted prisoners, or sectioned under the Mental Health Act and having to stay somewhere as part of their treatment or living in care and subject to a Deprivation of Liberty Order, or if they have a Deputy who has the power to take this decision.
Otherwise, in theory, anyone can move anywhere they like. However the practicalities of finance and getting care and support mean that people with learning disabilities face great problems if they want to move.
If you have a care and support package from social services the rules about which council should help you can make things difficult if you move. These are the 'Ordinary Residence' rules which mean that councils have to agree who will help you. Remember that there is a wide variation in what type of support or personal budgets are available in different council areas.
Council and RSL tenants often have a right to move if they can find another tenant to exchange properties with. This is called a Right of Assignment. Private tenants cannot do this.
For more details, check with your landlord. There may be restrictions around your right to assign if you are living in specialised housing, for example supported housing.