Housing benefit advice

Housing benefit (HB) provides help with rent and some other housing costs. However 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.

How can I claim housing benefit?

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.

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You can get housing benefit if you:

  • Are liable to pay rent on your normal home
  • Are on a low income
  • Do not have capital/savings above £16,000
  • Pass the "habitual residence" test and have the right to reside

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

 For example, an adult son or daughter is considered to be a non-dependant. Non-dependant deductions are not made if you or your partner is registered blind or receives DLA care component or attendance allowance.

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

What is the size criteria measure - bedroom tax? 

The government announced that from 1 April 2013 it will introduce a ‘size criteria’ for new and existing Housing Benefit claimants living in the social rented sector, also known as 'bedroom tax'. This will mean that both social and private sector claimants are assessed using the local housing allowance rules.

According to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), the applicable maximum rent will be reduced by a national percentage rate depending on the number of spare bedrooms in the household. The reduction rates will be:

  • Where under occupying by one bedroom – 14%
  • Where under occupying by two or more bedrooms – 25%

The new rules allow one bedroom for each adult or couple. Children under the age of 16 are expected to share if they are the same gender. Those under ten are expected to share a bedroom whatever their gender.

The guidelines do not define what a bedroom is. Rather, the regulations state that it is for a landlord to specify the size of the property; this ought to be in the tenancy agreement reflecting the amount of rent charged. A room is either a bedroom or not a bedroom. The number of bedrooms in the property will be determined by the landlord’s tenancy agreement, so you cannot claim that a bedroom is actually a living room.

What is the size criteria measure - bedroom tax? 

Bedroom tax will affect council tenants and those who rent from housing associations. But it has also been argued that some groups will be affected more than others. The introduction of the size criteria is likely to affect an estimated 660,000 – 43% of those are resident in the North West.

Pensioners – The changes will only apply to working age housing benefit claimants which is now marked at those under the age of 66. From April 2013, if either half of a couple are of pensionable age, they will not suffer reductions to housing benefit.

People with disabilities – The proportion of disabled claimants affected by the measure is higher than for non-disabled claimants – a total of 56% of working age housing benefit claimants or their partners who are affected by the size criteria would be classified as disabled. However, a bedroom for a non-resident carer will also be taken into account in determining the relevant size criteria where that carer provides necessary overnight care for the claimant or their partner.

Separated parents – Those who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom will be affected. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (i.e. the parent who receives child benefit will not be affected by the rules).

What can I do if I am under-occupying? 

The average cost to affected claimants has been estimated at £14 per week in 2013/14, which in times of austerity is a significant amount for many. However this will be based upon the circumstances of each claimant. The Department of Work and Pensions has claimed that affected claimants will be faced with a choice to either: continue to live in accommodation which is assessed as larger than their household needs or move to accommodation which better reflects the size and composition of their household.

The DWP has set aside an additional £49 million over the Spending Review period to help local authority housing teams make the transition to the Housing Benefit reforms. It is aimed at giving claimants affected by the reforms help with moving and the additional costs.

Can you take in a lodger if approved by your landlord? 

From April, claimants with a paying lodger will be allowed to keep the first £20 of weekly rent. But housing benefit will be then cut, pound for pound, on the rest of the rent they receive. However following the establishment of Universal Credit in October 2013 you will be able to keep all the rental income (although only the first £4,250 of annual rent is free of income tax).

However taking in a lodger will have an impact on many home contents insurance policies, potentially invalidating a policy or raising the premium. It is therefore important to check your policy prior to letting out a room.

Can you apply for a discretionary housing payment?  

From 2013/14, an extra £30 million per year has also been added to the Discretionary Housing Payment fund. This allows local authorities to give extra discretionary help to those facing difficulties meeting their housing costs. The extra funding is intended to provide additional help to disabled claimants living in properties where significant adaptations have been made; as well as additional help to foster carers, including those in between fostering placements. While there is no right of appeal if these payments are not awarded, claimants are able to ask their local authority to review the decision.

What happens if I am not happy with the decision made? 

You can appeal against any decision that you are unhappy with to your Local Authority, within one month of the date of the decision. You can in very limited circumstances submit a late appeal but you must have good reason for not submitting the appeal sooner. An example of good cause could be a recent hospital stay which has prevented you from appealing sooner.

What happens if I am in rent arrears? 

If you receive a formal notice from your landlord that you are in rent arrears our housing law team may be able to help you. Contact us on 0203 816 9282 for more information, alternatively complete our online enquiry form and a member of the team will contact you to discuss your situation. Our housing law experts have a specialist quality mark from the Legal Aid Agency for housing cases, this means that we will often be able to provide assistance to you free of charge if you qualify for help under the legal aid scheme and are based in the North West of England.

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