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Council tenant: Your rights

Being a council tenant is a little different from being a private tenant. There are some benefits to being a council tenant but it also comes with certain responsibilities. Here’s what you need to know.

A standard row of council houses

 

What are my rights as a council tenant?

Renting a council house differs from a private rental, and the rights of council tenants are usually stronger than those of private tenants.

But the first thing to understand is the type of tenancy agreement you have.

Introductory tenancy

If you’re offered a council tenancy, you’re often given an introductory tenancy.

This lasts for 12 months and is effectively a trial period.

As long as you’re not a bad tenant, you can rest assured that you’re secure in your accommodation for the introductory period.

But you don’t have the right to do things such as make major improvements to the property.

At the end of the 12 months, if everything has gone smoothly, you can expect to become either a secure tenant or a flexible tenant.

But if the council isn’t happy with how your tenancy has gone it might extend the trial by 6 months or, in more serious cases, start eviction proceedings.

Flexible tenancy

This is where you’re given a fixed-term contract by the council. It’s for a minimum of 2 years, but is usually for at least 5 years.

Once the term is up, you’re either offered another fixed-term tenancy or a secure tenancy. It’s also possible that the council doesn’t renew your tenancy and you have to leave.

If your tenancy isn’t renewed, you have to be told what the reason is, and you should be given the opportunity to appeal the decision.

If you have a flexible tenancy, you can:

  • Rent out rooms (although you can’t sublet the whole property)

  • Buy your property through Right to Buy

  • Sometimes transfer your tenancy to another person

  • Swap homes with another council or housing association tenant

Secure tenancy

Under a secure tenancy, as long as you don’t break the conditions of the tenancy, you can live in your council home for the rest of your life.

Your rights as a secure tenant are the same as under a flexible tenancy. You’re also allowed to make improvements to your home, as long as you get permission from the council.

This includes:

  • Installing a new bathroom or kitchen

  • Installing a new gas fire or fireplace

  • Building an extension

  • Putting up a garden shed or greenhouse

  • Cavity wall insulation

  • Redecorating the outside of a house

  • Fitting an aerial or satellite dish

 

What are the rules for living in a council house?

Your landlord, the council, is responsible for the structure of the property and for keeping any shared parts of the building in a good condition. They're also responsible for making sure gas and electricity appliances are safe. But you’re responsible for day-to-day issues.

This includes things such as getting replacement keys if you lose them, putting up a new shower rail or replacing curtains.

You must also keep the property in good condition, and if either you or your guests cause any damage, it’s down to you to fix it.

Failure to do so could – in serious cases – result in eviction.

If you have a secure tenancy, you can carry out work on the property, but you might have to get the council’s permission first. If you’re not sure, speak to the council.

 

What are my council tenants’ rights when it comes to the Right to Buy scheme?

The Right to Buy scheme is where you can apply to the council to buy the property you’re living in at a discounted rate.

When you’ve passed your introductory tenancy, you can apply to buy your council house, if you want to.

To qualify, you must have been living in a council house for a total of 3 years, and it must be your only home. You can find out more about your eligibility for Right to Buy on the government's website.

 

Can I transfer my council tenancy to someone else?

If you have a secure or flexible tenancy, you might be able to transfer it to someone else, or pass it on when you die.

Secure tenancies granted before April 2012 can be transferred or passed on only once. But some secure and flexible tenancies granted after this date can be transferred or passed on more than once.

The best thing to do is to check your tenancy agreement. If you’re still in doubt, speak to your landlord, the council – they should have a dedicated council tenants’ team.

 

How do I end my council tenancy?

As with a private tenancy, you need to give 4 weeks’ notice, in writing to the council. 

It’s also possible that during your tenancy the council may need to make improvements to your property.

If this happens, you should be moved to another property, which in effect ends the tenancy and starts a new one. To find out more about council tenancies, check out the government’s guide.

 

What are the rules around a council tenant not living in the house?

You’re not allowed to have a council tenancy but live elsewhere.

If you have a flexible or tenancy or a secure tenancy, you can rent out rooms, but you’re not allowed to sublet the property. It’s an offence to do so.

And you’re committing fraud if you have a council house or flat while owning other property or being in a position to do so.

As well as being against the law, it would also be immoral. Demand for council properties exceeds supply, and you’d be depriving a potential worthy tenant of having their own home.

If you need to be away from home for more than 42 days, you must let the council know.

 

Do council tenants pay insurance?

When it comes to home insurance, you’re responsible for your contents.

If something happens to your council property – there’s a break-in, or fire or flood – it’s down to you to make sure you have adequate cover.

It’s worth checking out some of the specialist tenants’ insurance policies that are available.

The building itself, however, is the landlord’s responsibility, so the council should deal with your buildings insurance.

This means if the property becomes uninhabitable, it’s the council who’s responsible for finding you alternative accommodation.

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Do council tenants pay council tax?

Yes. Regardless of whether you’re a council tenant or a private tenant, it’s down to the person or people living in the home to pay the council tax.

Of all the bills you get, this is one of the most important to pay.

If you’ve missed a payment, get in touch with the council as soon as possible. The council has the power to take money owed straight from your wages or benefits.

If you’re worried about late council tax payments and where you stand, your local Citizens Advice Bureau should be able to help.

 

Council tenant vs private tenant explained

Both private and council tenants have the right to live in a habitable property. They can expect to get on with their lives without undue interference from their landlords.

Both private and council tenants are expected to keep their homes in a good state of repair, report any damage and pay their rent on time.

But there are a number of advantages to being a council tenant rather than renting privately.

Council tenancy agreements offer long-term security. Private landlords, however, can ask you to leave the property if they want to sell it or move in themselves.

Rent tends to be significantly higher in the private markets, and there are also deposits required, which aren’t needed with council tenancies.

If you’re a council tenant, you can home-swap with other people, which you can’t do if you’re a private tenant. But when you’re first housed by the council, you often don’t get the chance to decide where you live. Also,  the waiting lists for council properties are usually long.