Housing benefit helps those on low incomes to meet the cost of paying their rent each month. Payments can be made to those individuals who are in work as well as those who are unemployed (or unable to work). It should be noted that Housing Benefit is normally only paid to those people who are renting their property from a council or housing association (as those who rent their home privately from a landlord need to instead apply for Local Housing Allowance (LHA).)
What is housing benefit?
Housing benefit helps people with the cost of paying for rented accommodation. It cannot be claimed by those who own their own property (known as owner-occupiers). However those who do own their property may be eligible for financial support towards the cost of mortgage interest via Income Support, JSA, income related Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credit. You may qualify for housing benefit support if you are on a low income or in receipt of other benefits. Changes in legislation dating from 2013 mean that Housing Benefit is slowly being replaced by a new Universal Credit.
Housing benefit is paid by local authorities but does not help towards the cost of Council Tax. However if are on a low income you may be eligible for support with the cost of your Council tax.
Who can claim?
Housing benefit is designed for people who rent their property (either from the council or from a housing association) and includes those who pay rent through part of a shared ownership scheme.
How much will I get?
The amount of housing benefit and eligible rent you will get is calculated according to your personal circumstances and income level. The following criteria will be examined by your local authority in order to calculate your level of entitlement…
- Your income
- How much you need to live
- Number of people you live with
- If anyone you live with is sick or disabled
Your eligible rent level will be determined using the above criteria (minus ineligible service or fuel deductions). From April 2013 if you have more bedrooms than the rules permit then your eligible rent level will be reduced by 14% for the 1st bedroom and by 25% if you have two additional bedrooms. This is known as the spare room subsidy dubbed the Bedroom Tax.
If you are on any of the following benefits you are likely to receive the full amount of your eligible/full amount of housing benefit.. (minus certain deductions)
- Income Support
- Job Seeker’s Allowance (Income Based)
- Employment and Support Allowance (Income Related)
- Pension Guarantee Credit
If you are not in receipt in any of the above the amount you receive will be worked out by comparing the amount of money you get each week with your Applicable Amount. Your applicable amount is what the government deems to be the amount of money you and your family need to live on each week. This amount can change in certain cases such as if you are sick or disabled, a pensioner or are a lone parent. Should your income be less than the applicable amount you will be eligible for the full housing benefit. Moreover, if this is the case you should also apply for income support. Conversely, if your income exceeds the applicable amount level you will be able to claim housing benefit equal to your eligible rent minus 65% of the weekly excess income figure and non-dependent deductions.
How to apply
To make a fresh claim for housing benefit you should contact your local council. If you are unsure who your local authority is, you can enter your postcode here.
I am already claiming other benefits, what do I do?
If you are in receipt of JSA, ESA or Income support then you can apply for housing benefit via Jobcentre Plus. Click here to find your local Jobcentre Plus office or alternatively you can phone them on the following number.
Telephone: 0800 055 6688
Textphone: 0800 023 4888
How and when will I get paid the money?
The money can be paid in intervals of one week, two weeks or four week in arrears, and in most cases, directly to your local Council. If you rent from a housing association or landlord, the money is paid directly to you.
How will housing benefit be affected by Universal Credit?
What restrictions are there on Housing Benefit?
Below is a list of the most common restrictions.
(i) Should you pay housing benefit to a private landlord then your rent amount will be restricted to the amount set by your rent officer.
(ii) Should your housing benefit be paid to a housing association or council, the amount can be restricted if your accommodation is considered too large (Bedroom Tax)
(iii) Should there be adults who live in your house (who are not a partner or boarder) a deduction will be made from your benefit amount based on the fact that it is assumed these person (s) could make a contribution towards the cost of running the home, regardless of whether they do or not.
What is the housing benefit cap?
This is a cap on to the total amount of housing benefit (or Universal credit) you can receive each year. The cap amount is decided by parliament each year. From November 7th 2016 the cap was reduced, with different rates for those who live in and outside London.
If you live in London…
- £442.31 a week for those couples of those with children
- £296.35 a week for single people
If you live outside London…
- £384.62 a week or those couples of those with children
- £257.69 a week for single people
When assessing whether your housing benefit or universal credit award should be reduced or not your local authority will also take into account payments from other benefits you are receiving.
If you have disabled children that can’t share a bedroom
Those who live with disabled children who cannot share a bedroom should inform their local housing benefit office. The government’s own advice on this matter states that children who are unable to share a bedroom due to a medical reason must be allowed their own room. It is important to note however you may be asked for official confirmation of the above. If it is adjudged that your child does not need their own room then you have the option to seek advice on appealing the decision and requesting a review. Unfortunately, storage of equipment for a disabled child is not counted as a valid qualifying criteria when it comes to deciding whether the child can share a room.
How do I report a change of circumstances?
You should tell your local authority immediately of any change of circumstances that is likely to affect your housing benefit award. Delaying informing them of any changes will mean that you will be obliged to repay any overpayments you receive. Below is a list of changes that would require you to contact your local authority…
- Moving out of the local area
- Informing them you no longer require help paying your rent
- Changes in other benefit payments including JSA, ESA, Income Support, Pension Credit or Universal credit
- Beginning or ending employment
- Changes in hours worked
- Someone moves in or out
- Birth of a child
- Moved to another property in the same local authority
- Changes to your rent amount
- Your personal savings exceeds the threshold (£6,000 for working age, £10,000 for pensioners)
Who is not entitled to claim?
There are certain exclusions with regards to who can and cannot claim housing benefit
Below we have listed the main reasons why you would not be able to claim…
- You are in receipt of Universal Credit which means housing costs are included in one singular payment
- You are living with a close relative who is in receipt of your rental money
- You live in a nursing or care home, or other form of elderly care accommodation
- You are renting from a previous partner who used to live in the same property
- You are the parent or guardian of your landlord’s child
- Your live in your property as part of your employment
- You are an asylum seeker who has yet to receive refugee status or who has not had confirmation of your right to remain in the UK
- You are classed a sponsored immigrant but have been in the UK less than 5 years
In addition to this, there are some reasons that mean you may not be able to claim…
- You used to live with your landlord
- You live in a property run by a religious order
- You are renting the property from a trust of which you are a trustee
- You rent from a company of which you are a director
- You used to be the owner of the property you are renting
- You are a student
- Your tenancy has been changed to include another person you are living with (not your partner)
Problems and Appeals
If you disagree with a decision relating to your award you have one month to lodge an appeal with your local authority. Once a request to appeal has been received, your local council is duty bound to review it’s initial decision.
There are several reasons why you may feel it necessary to launch a housing benefit appeal. Firstly there could be an apparent administrative error, such as your local council miscalculating the number of children you have. In addition to this you may launch on appeal on the basis that…
- Your local authority have adjudicated that you should no longer receive housing benefit
- You have been paid too much and that you must now make repayments
- You specified that (in order to help you manage your finances) you wanted your housing benefit paid directly to your landlord but the local council has refused
- You requested for backdated payments to be made but the council are unwilling to pay them
To support your appeal, you may find it useful to include all relevant paperwork which can be cited as evidence. For example, you could include your award letter from the child benefit office to prove the number of children you have or perhaps a payslip, should you be seeking to confirm your income level from paid employment.
Housing Benefit Tribunals
If the result of the appeal is for the council to uphold their original decision you will have one further avenue to explore which is appealing to a tribunal. A tribunal will consider your case and the final decision will be made a judge. You also have the option to appeal to a tribunal instead of the council in the first instance. The tribunal can only consider matters which affect the material claim itself such as whether it was successful or the amount awarded, it cannot consider administrative matters such as frequency of payments or the conduct of council staff.
Contact numbers and addresses
In order to make a claim you should contact your local council’s housing department. If you are already in receipt of other benefits including JSA, ESA or Income Support, then you should contact Jobcentre Plus who will forward information of your other benefit entitlements to your local council.
What about overpayments?
If your are paid in excess of your award amount in error then you will be obliged to repay the extra amount. You may also have to pay a civil penalty, for example, if your circumstances or income changed and you did not inform your local authority. You will only be given a civil penalty if you are adjudged to not have committed benefit fraud. If however, you are deemed to have committed benefit fraud, a different set of rules will apply.
The government have two help guides that provide more information regarding overpayments.
Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions with regard to claiming housing benefit.