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Housing benefit

Disability Rights UK Factsheet F44

This factsheet is free for you to download. We are committed to providing free information on our website but we are a small charity and if you are able to make a donation to help cover costs of research and updating it would make a big difference.

1. What is housing benefit?

Housing benefit (HB) is help with rent and some other housing costs. This does not include mortgage costs, which may be met if you claim income support, pension credit, income-based jobseeker's allowance or income-related employment and support allowance.

This factsheet outlines the housing benefit system in England, Scotland and Wales. You can find out information on the Northern Ireland system from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive website at www.nihe.gov.uk/housing_benefit/.

2. Who can get housing benefit?

You can get housing benefit if you:

  • are liable to pay rent on your normal home.
  • are on a low income - housing benefit is worked out in a similar way to income support but your benefit tapers off instead of stopping altogether when your income goes above income support levels.
  • do not have capital/savings above £16,000.
  • pass the "habitual residence" test and have the right to reside

3. Eligible rent

Not all rent is eligible for housing benefit help. If you have been living in private rented accommodation since before 7 April 2008 you may not get all of your rent paid if your property is considered too large for your needs or it is considered too expensive. For more information on eligible rent see the Disability Rights Handbook.

If you started to claim housing benefit for private rented accommodation after 7 April 2008 your housing benefit will be assessed under the local housing allowance scheme (LHA). For more information see below.

4. Local housing allowance 

4.1 What is LHA?

Local housing allowance (LHA) is a set amount of housing benefit paid if you are in private rented accommodation. The amount you get depends on:

  • the area where you live
  • the number of bedrooms you need
  • whether you pass the low income test
  • whether you have non-dependents living with you

If your LHA is less than your rent you are expected to make up the shortfall or seek cheaper accommodation.

4.2 The area where you live

The country is divided into local areas, usually the size of one or more local authority districts called Broad Rental Market Areas (BRMAs) which contain a mix of accommodation. Basically, within the BRMA, an average rent will set for different sizes of accommodation.

This figure is reviewed every month and published by the Local Authority so that it can be made public for landlords and tenants to view. However once you make a claim for help with rent on a particular property the assessment will remain unchanged for a year.

4.3 Which properties are not covered by LHA?

LHA applies only to properties in the deregulated private sector. Currently LHA does not apply to:

  • council properties;
  • housing associations;
  • tenancies that started before 1989;
  • properties where the landlord provides you with care, support or supervision;
  • exceptional cases - caravans, mobile homes, houseboats, hostels and bed and breakfast establishments; or
  • tenancies where a substantial amount of rent is attributable to board and attendance e.g. hotel accommodation.
  • private rented accommodation which you have been living in since before 7 April 2008

4.4 The number of bedrooms you need

LHA allows you a certain number of bedrooms (the size criteria). You are allowed one bedroom for:

  • every adult couple (including civil partners)
  • every adult aged 16 or over
  • any two children under age 10 (unless it is inappropriate for them to share a room because of disability)
  • any two children of the same sex aged 10 to 15 (unless it is inappropriate for them to share a room because of disability)
  • any other child
  • a non-resident carer if you are (or your partner is) a disabled person who needs overnight care

No other rooms are taken into account.

Since 1 April 2011, for new claimants, LHA is capped at the four bedroom rate, even if you need more bedrooms and even if one of them is the extra bedroom for a non-resident carer. Also the LHA weekly rates in any area cannot be more than:

  • £250 for a one bedroom property
  • £290 for a two bedroom property
  • £340 for a three bedroom property
  • £400 for a four bedroom property

4.5 Reduction in the average LHA

Since 1 April 2011, for new claimants, LHA rates are set at whichever is the lower of the ‘30th percentile’ of rents in the local area or the Consumer Prices Index of inflation (CPI) rather than at the average (or ‘median’). This means that only about 3 in 10 properties for rent in the local area should be affordable to people on HB rather than every 5 in 10 properties as was previously the case.

All the changes to LHA rates which affect new HB claimants from 1 April 2011 apply to existing HB claimants on the anniversary of their claim. If this applies you could receive up to nine months of benefit at your existing rate as ‘transitional protection’ after that anniversary date.

For more information see HB/CTB Circular A25/2010 at www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/a25-2010.pdf.

From 2014 LHA rates will be set each year on 15th January when that day is a Tuesday (or Wednesday in Northern Ireland). If the 15th is not a Tuesday the rate will be set from the first Tuesday  (or Wednesday in Northern Ireland) following the 15th January in that year. The LHA rate will then either be set at the lower of the rent at the 30th percentile of listed rents or the previous year’s LHA increased by one per cent. For more information see The Rent Officers (Housing Benefit and Universal Credit Functions) (Amendment) Order 2013.

4.6 The rules about your age

If you are under 35 and single you will get the LHA for one bedroom in shared accommodation unless you qualify for a severe disability premium (see below), or unless you are a care leaver aged under 22.
 
If you are 35 or older you are allowed the normal one bedroom rate unless you live in shared accommodation, in which case the rate for one bedroom shared accommodation is used.

4.7 Couples without children

If you have a partner, but no children, the rule is the same as that for claimants over 35 years old.

4.8 Payment of LHA

The rent will be paid to the tenant rather than the landlord, though there will be some safeguards for landlords to prevent non-payment by tenants.

Direct payments will still be made to a landlord where the claimant is 8 weeks or more in arrears with the rent. The landlord will also receive payments where the tenant is unlikely to pay their rent, or where it is thought they will have difficulty in managing their affairs, for example because they are vulnerable. It will be up to the local authority to decide both of these criteria.

5. How much is HB?

The amount you get will vary depending on your circumstances. Housing benefit assessments are based on a combination of:

  • personal allowances - See 5.2 below. 
  • premiums - (paid if you or your partner have a disability, care for a disabled person or have reached the qualifying age for pension credit) See 5.3 below.

The amount of housing benefit you can get will depend on your circumstances. You can view the current benefit rates for income support on our website.There is also detailed information on benefits rates in the Disability Rights Handbook.

The maximum housing benefit you can be paid cannot be more than your eligible rent/local housing allowance (see above). If you need additional help with rent you can apply to your local authority for a discretionary housing payment (see 10 below).

5.1 Non-dependant deductions

Your housing benefit may be affected if you have a non-dependant living with you.

A non-dependant is someone who is over 18 who is not your partner or a:

  • joint tenant
  • boarder
  • lodger
  • sub-tenant
  • paid carer provided by a charity or voluntary organisation

An adult son or daughter is considered to be a non-dependant.

Non-dependant deductions are not made if you or your partner:

  • get the care component of disability living allowance (any rate),
  • the daily living component of personal independence payment (PIP; any rate)
  • get armed forces independence payment
  • get attendance allowance
  • get constant attendance allowance
  • are registered blind

There is also no deduction made for a non-dependant if they are under 25 and on income support or income based jobseeker's allowance or are getting income related employment and support allowance during the assessment phase. For more about non-dependant deductions see the Disability Rights Handbook.

5.2 Personal allowances

These are paid to you for the people in your household. The amounts paid depend on your age, whether you are single, a lone parent, part of a couple (whether married or living together or a civil partner) or have children. There are also special rates if you are entitled to main phase employment and support allowance.

Your household includes your partner and any dependent child or qualifying young person living with you.

A dependent child is a child under age 16. A qualifying young person is some one who is under 20 and either in full-time non-advanced education or approved training which began before he or she was 19.

You will also get an additional allowance if you are claiming employment and support allowance (see Factsheet F31 - employment and support allowance).

5.3 Premiums

You can get extra amounts in the form of premiums if you satisfy certain conditions.

You can get any or all of the following premiums if you satisfy the rules for them:

  • carer premium
  • disabled child premium  
  • enhanced disability premium 
  • family premium 
  • severe disability premium

In addition to these premiums you can get one of the premiums listed below. If you qualify for two of the premiums on this list you will get the one which pays you the most:

  • family premium lone parent rate 
  • disability premium 

Carer premium

You or you partner must be entitled to carer's allowance, even if you are not actually paid it because you receive another benefit. This premium is payable for each person who qualifies.

Disability premium

You must be under the qualifying age for pension credit and one of the following applies to you or your partner:

  • are registered as blind, or taken off that register in the past 28 weeks
  • are getting one of the following qualifying benefits:
  1. attendance allowance
  2. disability living allowance (DLA)
  3. long-term incapacity benefit (IB)
  4. severe disablement allowance (SDA)
  5. the disability element or severe disability element of working tax credit
  6. war pensioner's mobility supplement
  7. constant attendance allowance
  8. personal independence payment
  9. armed forces independence payment
  10. you are the claimant and you have been incapable of work or entitled to statutory sick pay during the qualifying period of 52 weeks (or 28 weeks if you are terminally ill) and still be incapable of work

If you have a partner you will be paid a higher couple rate of this premium.

You cannot get this premium if you are getting employment and support allowance or have a limited capability for work ( You will get an additional allowance based on your employment and support allowance claim instead: see 5.2 above).

Disabled child premium

You must:

  • have a dependent child or qualifying young person under age 20 and one of the following applies:
  1. they are getting disability living allowance, personal independence payment or armed forces independence payment
  2. they are registered blind

The premium is paid for each child who qualifies.

Enhanced disability premium

You or your partner must satisfy one of the following:

  • be in the employment and support allowance support group
  • be under the qualifying age for pension credit and receiving the high rate care component of disability living allowance, the personal independence payment enhanced rate of the daily living component or armed forces independence payment

If you have a partner you will be paid the couple rate of this premium.

Family premium

You must have a dependent child or qualifying young person under age 20.  

Family premium lone parent rate

This premium is paid instead of ordinary family premium. You can get it if you claimed housing benefit before 6.4.98.

Severe disability premium

You or your partner must satisfy all of the following:

  • be receiving the care component of disability living allowance (middle or higher rate), attendance allowance, daily living component of the personal independence payment or armed forces independence payment
  • live alone (there are exceptions to this rule)
  • no one else must be getting carer's allowance for looking after you 

There is a couple rate if both of you qualify.

5.4 Capital

You cannot get housing benefit (HB) if your capital or savings (or you and your partner's capital or savings) are above the upper savings limit of £16,000. Your HB will be reduced if your capital or savings (or you and your partner's capital or savings) are over the lower savings limit of £6,000.

The lower limit is set at £10,000, if you or your partner are over the qualifying age for pension credit (and not claiming income-related employment and support allowance, income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance).

There is no upper savings limit if you are getting pension credit guarantee credit and claiming housing benefit.

5.5 Tariff income

If your capital is between the lower and upper limits, a ‘tariff income’ is assumed: one pound a week for every £250 (or part of £250) above the lower limit is included as your income.

For example, if you have capital of between £6,250.01 and £6,500, £2 a week is included as your income. Each time capital gets into the next block of £250 (even by as little as one penny) an additional £1 is included as income.

If you or your partner are the qualifying age for pension credit or over and you are getting housing benefit and not claiming income-related employment and support allowance, income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance your assumed tariff income is one pound a week for every £500 (or part of £500) above the lower limit.

5.6 Earnings

If your net earnings are above a certain amount you will be expected to pay 65 pence in the pound towards your rent. Some of your earnings are not taken into account when working out your housing benefit. This is normally:

  • £5 if you are single
  • £10 if you have a partner
  • £20 if you qualify for the disability premium or the carer premium
  • £25 if you are a lone parent

So if your net earnings are £30 a week and you have a disability premium you will be expected to pay £6.50 towards your rent.  

5.7 Other benefits

Some benefits are not taken into account when working out means tested benefits. These include child benefit, attendance allowance and disability living allowance. 

5.8 Finding work

Your housing benefit and can continue at your old rate for four weeks if you find work and you were getting :

  • employment and support allowance (ESA)
  • incapacity benefit (IB)
  • income support (IS)
  • income-based jobseeker's allowance (JSA)
  • severe disablement allowance (SDA)

To get housing benefit extended payments you must have been on one of the above benefits for at least 26 weeks and your job must be expected to last at least 5 weeks. You do not need to make a claim to receive extended payments.

6. The habitual residence test and the right to reside

The term "right to reside" is not defined but is dependent on your immigration status and nationality. You might have a right to reside under United Kingdom rules, European Union law or because you are a British citizen.

The habitual residence test is a test to see if you normally live in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Republic of Ireland or the Isle of Man. The test will be applied if you have been living abroad.

There is no legal definition of 'habitual residence'. Relevant factors are where you normally live, where you expect to live in future, your reasons for coming to this country, the length of time spent abroad before you came here, and any ties you still have with the country where you have come from.

From 1 April 2014 new migrant jobseekers from the European Economic Area (EEA) can no longer claim Housing Benefit (HB) if they are claiming income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).

The new rules will not apply to:

  • UK nationals and nationals of the Irish Republic
  • EEA jobseekers with retained 'worker status' (e.g. those who have been recently working and have lost their job involuntarily)
  • EEA workers/self-employed.

For more information see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-rules-to-stop-migrants-claiming-housing-benefit

You do not have to satisfy the habitual residence test if you are an EEA national who has 'worker status'.

From 1 March 2014 you are considered to have worker status if you have been working for at least three months immediately before claiming benefits and have been earning enough to have National Insurance (NI) deductions from your pay (have gross pay of £149 a week for the 2013/2014 tax year or £153 a week for the 2014/15 tax year).

Where you have not earned enough to have NI deductions from your pay or have not worked 3 months you will still be classed as an EEA worker if your employment is considered to be 'genuine and effective'. To decide this a decision maker must consider all factors related to your work such as the hours you do, your work pattern, what your work involves and your employment contract, if you have one.

For guidance on the worker status rules see:

If you are refused worker status you can challenge this decision. For more information see our Factsheet F36 - appeals and mandatory reconsideration.

You can read more detailed information on the residence and presence tests in our Disability Rights Handbook.

7. How do you claim?

You can claim housing benefit at the same time as you claim income support, employment and support allowance, or jobseeker's allowance.

If you are not claiming these benefits you can claim by phoning your local authority or using their claim form.

The DWP has produced a guide to the claims process at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/251256/hb-claims-processing-guidance.pdf

8. Disabled students and HB

You can get HB as a student if you:

  • get income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance (JSA) as a full-time student;
  • have or are treated as having a limited capability for work under ESA rules for a continuous period of 28 weeks (two or more periods of limited capability can be added together if they are no more than 12 weeks apart);
  • qualify for a disability premium or severe disability premium, or you have been incapable of work for 28 weeks (two or more periods of incapacity can be added together if they are no more than eight weeks apart).  You do not have to be eligible for income support under the pre-27.10.08 rules to claim under these rules;
  • you are registered as blind with a local authority;
  • you qualify for a disabled students' allowance because of deafness.
  • are a lone parent with a dependent child or qualifying young person under 20;
  • are one of a couple and your partner is not a student. Your partner can claim HB (the student rules will apply to your income);
  • are one of a couple, your partner is also a student and you have a dependent child. You will be eligible for HB throughout the course (not just in the summer vacation as for JSA and income support);
  • or your partner, are the qualifying age for pension credit or over;
  • can get HB temporarily while waiting to return to your course after an agreed break because you were ill or had to care for someone. You can get HB once you have recovered or your caring responsibilities have ended until either the date you return to your course or the date your education establishment has agreed you can return to your course, whichever is earlier, but only for a maximum period of one year and providing you are not eligible for a student loan or grant during this time;
  • you are under 19 and a full-time student on a non-advanced course (the age limit can be extended to under 21 if you started the course before reaching age 19), or you are a 'qualifying young person' for child benefit purposes.

Full-time students living in accommodation provided by their educational establishment can claim for this accommodation if they are eligible for HB. Part-time students renting accommodation from their educational establishment may also be able to get help if they can establish that they are eligible for HB had they been a full-time student.

If you have a partner and have to live in two separate homes while you are on the course, you can get HB for both homes only if you are eligible for HB as a student

Disability Rights UK Student Helpline

For further information on the above and the support that is available for disabled students, please contact the Disabled Students Helpline:

Tel: 0800 328 5050

Tues 11.30am-1.30pm & Thurs 1.30pm-3.30pm

Email: students@disabilityrightsuk.org

The helpline provides free information and advice to disabled students in England, their parents, carers and key advisers about opportunities in post-16 education and training. This includes further and higher education and apprenticeships. We also provide general information on the Equality Act as it applies to education and give advice on UK students' entitlement to welfare benefits.

We produce a range of factsheets covering these subjects and frequently asked questions which you can access through the education section of our website at www.disabilityrightsuk.org.

9. Young people leaving care

You may not get housing benefit if you are:

  • a care leaver under 18 where social services are responsible for accommodating you
  • in a care home
  • a ‘person from abroad’ or ‘subject to immigration control’.

10. Discretionary Housing Payments

You may be able to get discretionary housing payments (DHPs) if your local authority thinks you need additional help with your housing costs. This help can even be given to cover if your housing costs have been reduced because of:

  • local housing allowance restrictions
  • a rent shortfall which may make you homeless
  • rent officer restrictions such as local reference rent or shared room rate
  • non-dependant deductions on your housing costs
  • reductions in your housing benefit due to the income taper
  • reductions if you are in the social rented sector (council housing, housing association tenancies) and your home is under occupied (bedroom tax)

Most local authorities have a form on which to request a DHP. If your authority does not, write a letter instead.

You do not have a right to a DHP. It is up to the local authority whether they give you any payment.

You can view the Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual at www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/discretionary-housing-payments-guide.pdf.

11. Bedroom tax: Changes for social tenants from April 2013

From April 2013, if you are of working age and are renting social housing (from your local authority or from a housing association) your housing benefit will have the same size criteria applied as for private tenants (see section 4.4). If your home has one ‘empty' bedroom you will lose 14% of your maximum eligible rent under the proposed new rules. If you have two empty bedrooms you will lose 25% of your maximum eligible rent. You will not have a four bedroom limit on your housing benefit. The private rent shared accommodation rate will also not apply (see section 4.6). You may be able to get help, if you are affected, under the discretionary housing payments scheme.

The size criteria will not apply to you if you or your partner are over state pension credit age.

For more detailed information on the bedroom tax see Factsheet F57 - the bedroom tax.

12. Universal Credit

Universal credit (UC) is a new benefit which will replace the following benefits, for anyone under state pension credit age, nationwide in Great Britain from October 2013 and in Northern Ireland from April 2014:

  • child tax credit
  • housing benefit
  • income related employment and support allowance
  • income based jobseekers allowance
  • income support
  • parts of the social fund
  • working tax credit

Between October 2013 and 2017 housing benefit will be abolished and support for rent will be paid as part of universal credit if. If you are already getting housing benefit you will be moved, at some point, over to universal credit.

If you are over state pension credit age you will be able to claim for rent support in your pension credit instead of housing benefit from October 2014. Your housing benefit will continue until this happens.

For more information see our Factsheet F55 - universal credit.

Your local authority will still be responsible for paying Discretionary Housing Payments under universal credit (see 10). Once you are claiming UC you may get Discretionary Housing Payments if you:

  • have reductions in UC where the benefit cap has been applied;
  • have reductions in UC if you are in the social rented sector (council housing, housing association tenancies) and your home is under occupied
  • lose UC due to the income taper

The only exception to the abolition of housing benefit is for payments made where you are in “specified accommodation.

Housing benefit is disregarded from the benefit cap calculation where the person is living in “specified accommodation” For more information see 13 below.

For more information on the benefit cap see our Factsheet F8 - benefits cap.

13. Specified Accommodation

From 10 April 2014, housing benefit regulations define specified accommodation as:

  • accommodation which comes under the existing definition of 'exempt accommodation' - supported housing where the landlord is of a specified type (for example, a housing association or a registered charity) and also provides care, support or supervision to the claimant, or has it provided on their behalf;
  • supported accommodation where the landlord is a specified third or social sector provider and care, support or supervision is provided to residents but the care isn't provided by the landlord or on their behalf;
  • third and social sector refuges, including local authority refuges, where the claimant is accommodated there because they are fleeing domestic violence; and
  • local authority hostels providing care, support or supervision.

This definition of specified accommodation also applies to Universal Credit.

For more information see our Factsheet F55 - universal credit.

14. Where can I get more help or information?

This factsheet is a basic overview of housing benefit. You can find out more detailed information in our Disability Rights Handbook. This and all our other publications are available from our shop at https://crm.disabilityrightsuk.org/. You can also place orders by contacting Disability Rights UK.

You can get help and information at your local advice centre, such as a Citizens Advice Bureau. You can get more information about where to get personal advice from our Factsheet F15 - Getting advice. All our factsheets are free to download on our website at www.disabilityrightsuk.org.

The Department for Work and Pensions have issued guidance on the future changes for tenants in social housing which is available at www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/a4-2012.pdf.

United Response have created an easy gead guide to welfare reform chhanges which you can download at www.unitedresponse.org.uk/2013/03/an-easy-read-guide-to-the-welfare-maze/.

Ken Butler
16 April 2014

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