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Housing and living in the UK

Bringing together information, useful links and FAQs

Housing and living in the UK, in brief.

  • There is currently a shortage of housing stock right across the country. This means that applicants for social housing need to meet stricter criteria which in turn, has pushed up the rental rates for private rentals.
  • If you are asked about your criminal record, you only need to disclose unspent convictions. Housing providers should disregard any spent convictions.
  • If you are applying for citizenship or the right to remain in the UK, you will need to disclose all of your convictions, including those which are spent.


Going into prison and preparing for release

Housing advisors in prison can give you information and advice in either making sure that you keep your existing home or planning somewhere for you to live when you’re released. Under the Homelessness Reduction Act, the prison has a duty to refer you to your local council for a housing assessment.

In the past we’ve seen council’s refuse to include individuals on a housing list as they are deemed to have made themselves “intentionally homeless. If you find yourself in this situation, you can ask the council to review it’s decision, as long as you do so (in writing) within 21 days.

To be seen as intentionally homeless, you must have deliberately done something or failed to do something, which led to you losing your home, and been able to stay where you were living. If you think the council’s decision was wrong because none of these points apply to you, it’s important to get advice before you ask for an appeal.

You should ask the council if they are going to offer you any immediate (emergency) accommodation for up to 28 days. Even if you are classed as intentionally homeless, you are entitled to this emergency accommodation, and then to receive advice aimed at helping you to find somewhere to stay after that.

Disclosing a criminal record to councils/housing associations/private landlords

Councils, housing associations and private landlords will often ask about your criminal record. They should tell you why they are collecting this information and what they’ll do with it. You may want to ask them how they plan to verify the information you provide. If they are not checking the information by way of a criminal record check, it may be considered as excessive data collection under the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

Councils and housing associations – You must disclose any unspent convictions if you are asked. A council or housing association can go to court seeking an eviction order if they discover that you gave false information when you applied for a tenancy with them.

Private landlords – It is usually a good idea to be open with landlords or agents when you apply for a home with them, because they too can go to court seeking an eviction order if they discover that you provided them with false information. Another problem is that if you do have unspent criminal convictions, the landlords insurance may not be valid if this is not disclosed. The landlord may try to recover money from you if a claim they make is refused because of your conviction, if they can prove that you lied to them.

Mortgage providers – You must disclose information about unspent convictions if asked – you are bound by a ‘legal declaration of truth’. If you are found to be lying by not disclosing an unspent conviction when you got a mortgage, it could lead to a further conviction. Also , if the mortgage lender finds out about your unspent conviction, it could invalidate the mortgage agreement and possibly any insurances as well.

If you are already renting a property from the council or housing association when you receive a conviction you would not normally need to disclose it. The only exception to this is where your initial agreement makes it clear that you must tell them about any future convictions you receive. If the council/housing association finds out about the criminal conviction, you could be evicted especially if you have been convicted of:

  • Anti social behaviour
  • Drug dealing or growing drugs on the premises
  • Running a brothel or another illegal activity in the house, or allowing someone else to do this
  • Being violent towards your partner or to a housing or other official.

Eviction should be the last resort – the council/housing association should try to get you to agree that you don’t commit the same crime again. This could be by way of getting you to agree to an Acceptable Behaviour Agreement, or by getting an Anti-Social Behaviour Order, or by downgrading your tenancy so that you can be evicted more easily if you do not follow the rules.

Getting a mortgage

Many lenders will have a question about criminal records on their application forms and if they do, then legally you will need to disclose any unspent convictions. However, every bank/building society will have their own lending criteria and it’s not necessarily the case that you will be refused a mortgage simply because you have a criminal record.

Becoming a social housing landlord

If you are looking to become a provider of social housing to a local authority as a private landlord you should consider the ‘suitability’ test that applies. This comes from the Housing Act 1996 and the relevant section is set out below (it relates only to unspent convictions).

Housing Act 1996 – Section 210 – “Suitability of accommodation”

For the purposes of this Part, accommodation secured from a private landlord as defined at section 217(1) shall not be regarded as suitable where one or more of the following apply:

(e) the local housing authority are of the view the landlord is not a fit and proper person to act in the capacity of landlord, having considered if the person has – ..

(i) committed any offence involving fraud or other dishonesty, or violence or illegal drugs, or any offence listed in Schedule 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (offences attracting notification requirements).

Coming to live in the UK

If you are looking to come to/stay in the UK you will need to disclose both spent and unspent convictions. If your application is for leave to remain and you were sentenced to over 4 years in prison, it is likely that your application will be refused. If your sentence was less than four years or you received a non-custodial sentence, then other timescales will be applicable.

Frequently asked questions

  • Many areas have schemes to help people on low incomes to pay deposits. They can be called Rent Deposit, Rent Guarantee or Bond Guarantee schemes. They can offer a grant or a loan to pay the deposit, or a guarantee (often for a set period such as a year) to pay the landlord if you don’t pay the rent or you owe money for any damage.

    The schemes may be run either by the Council or a local charitable organisation. They all have different rules, and they may or may not be helpful for people with an offending history. Some Councils also have money in their Homelessness Prevention Fund to help with deposits, and some Probation services have money set aside for this at the moment.

    The best places to find out if there is a scheme in your area are the Crisis website or your local Council and Probation service.

  • Rent deposit schemes usually don’t offer money for these. Other places to try are Credit Unions (you save with them, then can borrow money at low interest rates), or local Councils. Because homelessness prevention is part of their role, local Councils sometimes use their money to help people to get a private house or flat, if they would otherwise be at risk of being homeless.

  • No, unless you have a conviction for a financial crime. Private landlords often check credit checking agencies, and this should not reveal information about convictions for other crimes.

  • Disclosure will not necessarily stop you being granted leave to remain. The type of offence, the length of sentence, your immigration history and any patterns in re-offending will be taken into consideration. If you fail to disclose, then this could be seen as an attempt to deceive the UK Visa and Immigration Department.

  • Yes you will. Most overseas convictions are treated as through they happened in the UK.

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