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Other benefits

Housing Benefit eligibility

Housing Benefit is a top-up benefit that helps with the cost of rent. It can be paid whether you're in public-sector or private-sector housing, and you can claim it if you're on benefits or if you're working. You may be eligible for Housing Benefit if:

  • you’re liable for the rent on the place in which you live
  • you have a low income
  • you don't have much capital, such as savings
  • you’re usually resident in Great Britain
  • you’re not subject to immigration controls

You're eligible for Housing Benefit if you're liable for rent. There are circumstances in which you may be paying rent to a landlord but you are not considered liable for rent under the Housing Benefit rules.

You must have a legally enforceable agreement with your landlord, although this does not necessarily have to be in writing. The local authority will enquire about the details of your agreement, including how your rent is made up – for instance, if it includes other charges such as meals, fuel or service charges that may not be eligible for Housing Benefit.

The amount of Housing Benefit you're eligible to receive also depends on whether you rent from a private landlord, and whether your service and utility charges are included in your rent.

Click on the bars below for more information about Housing Benefit eligibility criteria, including:

  • who can claim Housing Benefit
  • what costs Housing Benefit can cover
  • whether you're liable for rent and how this affects your claim
  • how being temporarily absent from home may affect your Housing Benefit
  • restrictions on claiming Housing Benefit
  • who you can Housing Benefit claim for
  • how age can affect your Housing benefit eligibility
  • whether you're eligible for a discretionary housing payment

Who can claim Housing Benefit?

Housing Benefit is a top-up benefit which helps with the cost of rent. It's payable if your income is low and you don't have too much capital (savings, investments and property that is not your main home). It's administered by your local authority.

It can be paid whether you're in public-sector or private-sector housing, and you can claim it whether you're in or out of work.

There can only be one claimant for Housing Benefit for each household. You can claim for yourself, your partner and any children you're responsible for.

You can claim Housing Benefit if you're liable to pay rent. However, in some situations, you may be paying rent but Housing Benefit will not be payable because you're treated as not liable for rent. See the section on Liable for rent, below.

Payment must be for the home that you normally occupy. It's possible to be paid during temporary absences and, in some special cases, Housing Benefit can paid on two properties, usually for a limited time.

Housing Benefit will pay your eligible rent. Some items may be included in your rent (such as water charges, fuel charges, charges for meals and some service charges) which Housing Benefit will not pay, so even if you get maximum Housing Benefit, you'll have to meet these costs yourself. For more information, see What costs can Housing Benefit cover?

Restrictions on claiming Housing Benefit

You cannot claim Housing Benefit if you have over £16,000 in capital. The only exception to this is if you get the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit, in which case there is no capital limit and you'll get maximum Housing Benefit.

You cannot claim Housing Benefit if you're a homeowner. The only benefits that assist with mortgage costs are Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance and Pension Credit. If you're on a part-rent, part-buy scheme, Housing Benefit may meet the rent part of your payment.

You cannot claim if you're subject to immigration control or you don't have the right to reside in Great Britain. You may also be refused benefit for any time in which you're not regarded as habitually resident in Great Britain. You may need to seek independent help and advice if you encounter difficulties in these complex areas of law.

If you're studying full time, you may not be able to claim Housing Benefit. However, some students may make a claim, such as some lone parents and people with disabilities. If you have a partner who is not a student, they may be able to make the claim for you both. There is no age limit for claiming Housing Benefit, although if you're under 16, your housing costs will usually be the responsibility of a local authority’s adult or social services department.

If you enquire about Housing Benefit and you're told that you cannot claim, seek further help and advice. If you think you may be entitled to Housing Benefit, make a claim to your local authority and they will make a decision. Having a written decision on your claim then gives you a right of appeal.

What costs can Housing Benefit cover?

Housing Benefit can only be paid on "eligible rent". If your rent charge includes any items that are not eligible, the cost of these will be deducted from your total rent to calculate your eligible rent. Your eligible rent figure is then used to calculate how much Housing Benefit you will get.

Non-eligible items include charges for fuel, food or water. You will have to meet the costs of these non-eligible items yourself, even if you get maximum Housing Benefit.

If your rent includes meals, the following charges will not be included in your eligible rent, regardless of what you actually pay:

  • full board (three meals provided): £25.30 a week for each adult and person aged 16 or older, £12.80 for each child under 16
  • part board (two meals provided): £16.85 a week for each adult and person aged 16 or older, £8.45 for each child under 16
  • breakfast: £3.10 a week per person

If your rent includes charges for fuel, the following charges will not be included in your eligible rent unless you can show that you pay less than this:

  • cooking: £2.95 a week per family
  • heating: £25.50 a week per family
  • lighting: £2.05 a week per family
  • hot water: £2.95 a week per family  

Service charges

Service charges are only covered by Housing Benefit if you must pay them as a condition of occupying your accommodation. The following services are eligible for Housing Benefit:

  • general management costs, gardens, children’s play areas, lifts, entry phones and communal services such as TV and radio broadcasting, installation and maintenance
  • laundry facilities (such as a laundry room in an apartment block) but not charges for the provision of personal laundry
  • furniture and household equipment, but not if there is an agreement that the furniture will eventually become yours
  • cleaning of rooms and windows in communal areas and the outside of windows where neither you nor any member of your household can clean them yourself, unless payment for this is made by your local authority or the National Assembly for Wales

The following services are not eligible for Housing Benefit:

  • food, including prepared meals
  • sports facilities
  • TV rental, licence and subscription fees (but see above)
  • transport
  • personal laundry service
  • provision of an emergency alarm system
  • medical expenses
  • nursing and personal care
  • counselling and other support services
  • any other charge not connected with the provision of adequate accommodation and not specifically included in the list of eligible charges above

Private accommodation

If you're in a privately rented property, the maximum amount of Housing Benefit you can get is decided under the Local Housing Allowance scheme, which depends on the area in which you live and the size of property that you and your family need.

If your private tenancy was established before April 2008, Local Housing Allowance may not apply to you yet. The maximum Housing Benefit you can get is decided by the details of your individual tenancy and it can be subject to restrictions if your landlord is charging an excessive amount of rent or if you're occupying a property that is too large for your needs.

If you're single and under the age of 35, the maximum Housing Benefit that you can get may be limited to the cost of a single room and some shared facilities.

Liable for rent

To be liable to pay rent, you must have a legally enforceable tenancy agreement (such as a contract) with your landlord. You don’t need to have a written tenancy agreement, but a clearly written agreement will help you and your landlord, as well as the local authority. If you're refused Housing Benefit simply because you don't have a written agreement, you can challenge this decision.

In some circumstances, you can be treated as liable for rent, for example if your partner is a liable person. Another person (such as another member of the liable person’s family) can also be treated as liable for rent where payments are not otherwise being made and it's reasonable to accept that person as being liable for rent. This may happen if the person who usually pays the rent has left the home and a family member takes on the responsibility to avoid repossession because of mounting arrears.

If you're a joint tenant with your partner, you're both liable for the rent, but only one of you can make the claim. If you're a joint tenant with someone who is not your partner, you make separate claims and your entitlement to Housing Benefit will be assessed separately.

Treated as not liable for rent

In some circumstances, you may be paying rent but, for Housing benefit purposes, you'll be treated as not liable for rent and so refused benefit.

For example, this can happen if you're residing with and paying rent to a close relative, of you or your partner. For this rule, close relative means a parent, parent-in-law, step-parent, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, stepson, stepdaughter, stepson-in-law, stepdaughter-in-law, brother, sister, brother-in-law or sister-in-law.

However, if you rent a property from a close relative who does not live there, this will not apply. Your close relative is treated as residing with you if you share some accommodation other than a bathroom, toilet, hall or passageway, even if you have exclusive access to other rooms.

You can also be treated as not liable if your agreement with your landlord is not on a "commercial basis". This can be complicated and you may need independent help and advice if this affects you. It may happen where the local authority thinks your landlord will not enforce part of your agreement, for example if they let you off when you're in rent arrears, rather than taking action against you. The local authority will look at the whole of your agreement when considering if it's enforceable.

You will also be treated as not liable for rent if:

  • Your rent liability is to your or your partner's former partner and the rent was due on the home before you or they parted.
  • You or your partner are responsible for a child of your landlord. This means that you include that child in your benefit claims, rather than just looking after the child.
  • You or your partner owned the property you're claiming for and have not lived anywhere else since owning it. In this case, you cannot claim Housing Benefit for five years, unless you could not have carried on living there without giving up ownership. This may apply where you have given up ownership and become the tenant of a Housing Association because your home would otherwise have been repossessed.
  • Your occupation of your home is a term of your employment (such as tied cottages).
  • You're a member of a religious order and you're completely supported by that order.
  • Your home is a residential care home. There are exceptions to this, so seek advice.

You'll be treated as not liable for rent if your agreement is deemed to be "contrived" in order to take advantage of the Housing Benefit scheme. There are various other measures to prevent people making claims that take advantage of the Housing Benefit system. These may apply if your rent liability is to a trust with which you're personally involved or if you were previously a non-dependant in the home for which you now claim and the previous claimant still lives there. Seek help in these complicated situations.

Temporary absence from your home

Housing Benefit is usually payable on the property that you and your family normally occupy as your home. It's possible for you to be absent temporarily without losing Housing Benefit, as long as you intend to return and you have not sublet your property.

You can be absent for up to 13 weeks, as long as you're unlikely to be absent for longer. You don't need any special reason for being away. If you no longer intend to return, or your local authority has information that indicates you do not intend to return, they can stop your Housing Benefit before the 13 weeks are up.

The 13 weeks include trial periods in residential care (to establish if the care home is what you want).

You can also be absent from your main home for up to 52 weeks but only in particular circumstances. You must intend to return home, and you must not sublet your home. The circumstances are:

  • You're a hospital inpatient.
  • You, your partner or a child are undergoing approved medical treatment or convalescence. This can be in the UK or abroad, but it cannot be in residential care.
  • You're providing or receiving medical care approved by a medical practitioner. This can be in the UK or abroad, but it cannot be in residential care.
  • You're caring for a child whose parent or guardian is away receiving approved medical care or treatment.
  • You're undertaking a government-approved training course in the UK or abroad.
  • You're a student who is eligible for Housing Benefit (and you're not claiming Housing Benefit on two homes).
  • You're a remand prisoner (awaiting trial or sentence, but haven't been sentenced).
  • You have to live at a bail hostel instead of your usual home.
  • You're in residential care for short-term respite care (not a trial period).
  • You're away from home through fear of violence in your home. This could be family, neighbour or racial violence.
  • You may be able to argue to keep your benefit if your absence is more than 52 weeks, up to another three months, but only if you're not likely to be away "substantially in excess" of this time.

However, if you don't intend to return or your local authority has information that indicates you don't intend to return, they can stop your Housing Benefit before the 52 weeks are up.

The 13-week or 52-week period starts with the day you leave home. If you return home for a short stay (even as little as 24 hours, although seek in this case), a new 13- or 52-week period can start.

If you're a hospital inpatient or in a care home, check whether it affects how much Housing Benefit you can get.

Moving home

Housing Benefit is usually only payable on your main home and when you're liable for rent. It's also a top-up benefit, so is only payable when your income and capital are low enough. However, there are some occasions when you may be able to claim Housing Benefit for a former home or on two properties, generally for a limited time when you're moving from one home to another. Some of the situations are unusual and you may need independent help and advice to sort them out.

Just moved in

You can claim Housing Benefit for up to four weeks if you have just moved into your new home but you were liable for rent before you moved in. This only happens if the delay in your moving in was reasonable and you claimed Housing Benefit before you moved or told your local authority that you were moving. If you claimed before your move and your claim was refused, you must put in a new claim. The reasonable reasons for delay include:

  • You were waiting for a Social Fund payment that is connected with the move, such as removal expenses or money that is essential to help you set up home and you have a child under the age of five.
  • You were waiting for a Social Fund payment as above, and you are 60 or over and neither you nor your partner (if you have one) are getting Income Support or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.
  • You were waiting for a Social Fund payment (as above), you are under 60 and you or your partner qualify for disability premium, severe disability premium or disabled child premium in your Housing Benefit, or you get Income Support or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.
  • You became liable for rent while you were in hospital or residential care.
  • You were waiting for the home to be adapted for the needs of a person with a disability (the adaptations must be structural or to do with the fabric of the building).

Liable for your old home but not the new

If you're not liable for rent in your new home but you still have liability for your old home, you can claim Housing Benefit for up to four weeks if you were liable immediately before moving to your new home. You continue to be liable because you could not reasonably have avoided remaining liable for rent.

Liable in two homes

If you're liable for rent in two homes, you may get Housing Benefit paid for both in certain circumstances. You can get Housing Benefit for up to four weeks if:

  • You moved quickly (perhaps because of an offer of better accommodation that you were required to take up right away) and you could not reasonably avoid paying rent on your old home. This may apply if you still need to pay for a notice period.
  • Your move was delayed because you were waiting for the home to be adapted for the needs of a person with a disability (the adaptations must be structural or to do with the fabric of the building).

You can get Housing Benefit for up to 52 weeks if you have left your home due to fear of violence (such as family, neighbour or racial violence) and you intend to return home. The local authority must also find it reasonable to pay you Housing Benefit on two homes for up to 52 weeks.

You can get Housing Benefit indefinitely if:

  • You're in a couple and you or your partner are students (or trainees on a government course) who can claim Housing Benefit, you need to live apart and it's reasonable to pay you Housing Benefit on two homes.
  • You have a large family and the local authority has housed you in two homes.

Housing Benefit restrictions

The amount of Housing Benefit you can get may be restricted if your income or capital are above set levels. There are other possible limits placed on the maximum benefit that you can get, such as items in your rent that are not eligible for benefit (for more information, see the section on What costs can Housing Benefit cover?).

If you rent from a private landlord and your tenancy started after April 7 2008, you're subject to Local Housing Allowance, which may restrict the maximum help you can get.

If you rent from a private landlord and Local Housing Allowance does not yet apply to you, other restrictions may be placed on your maximum Housing Benefit if a rent officer has decided any of the following:

  • If you occupy a property that's too large for your needs, maximum Housing Benefit will be limited to what's reasonable for your needs. This is decided by the number of bedrooms that is appropriate for your family.
  • If your landlord is charging a rent that is significantly higher than they might reasonably expect for the property, the rent officer may restrict maximum Housing Benefit to a more reasonable level.
  • If the rent you're claiming for is found to be excessive, the rent officer will restrict Housing Benefit to a figure that matches a comparable property in a reasonable state of repair, and will also take into account reasonable rents in the market in the local area.
  • If you're single and under 35, your maximum Housing Benefit may be restricted to a "single room rent". This would be the reasonable cost of a single room with shared toilet, kitchen and living room facilities. This restriction does not apply in certain circumstances, such as if you're responsible for a child or you're entitled to severe disability premium.

If your rent is restricted in any of these ways, Housing Benefit will only be paid up to the level set by the rent officer and you'll have to meet the shortfall if you wish to remain in the property. You may be able to request a discretionary housing payment to assist you with your housing costs, but this would be a temporary solution to avoid rent arrears building up while you look for another property. 

You can appeal against Housing Benefit decisions. You can't appeal against the rent officer's judgement on how much rent is reasonable to pay for your property. You can, however, ask the rent officer to look at their decision again by writing to your local authority within six weeks of the Housing Benefit decision.

Changing to Local Housing Allowance

If you change address and move into accommodation rented from a private landlord, you will be moved on to Local Housing Allowance.

Your Housing Benefit may be further restricted by deductions from the amount payable if you have a non-dependant (usually a member of your family over the age of 18) living in your home.

Who can you claim for?

Housing Benefit is a top-up benefit that is paid whether you're in or out of work, if your income is low and you don't have much capital (such as savings).

Housing Benefit (like Council Tax Benefit) covers the needs of both adults and children, rather than dealing with them separately as most benefits now do.

You can claim Housing Benefit for you and your partner (your spouse, registered civil partner or someone you're living with as if they're your spouse or civil partner). You can also claim for dependent children, including some young people over the age of 16 (sometimes referred to as "qualifying young persons"). Only one person in the family can claim Housing Benefit and they must be liable for rent in order to be eligible for benefit.

A child counts as a member of your family if you're responsible for them and they're under 16. A young person over 16 counts as a member of your family if you qualify for Child Benefit for them, for example if they're still at school or college doing a full-time course of GCSEs, A-levels or an equivalent course. This no longer applies when the young person reaches their 20th birthday.

When making your claim, it's important to make clear who is living in the household and whether or not they're your dependant. If a young person aged 16 or over makes a successful claim for benefits in their own right, they will no longer count as part of your family for benefits purposes. A member of your family living in your home who is over the age of 18 and is not a qualifying young person is called a non-dependant, and their income may affect the amount of Housing Benefit you get.

If anyone else lives in the home (such as a lodger), they're not considered to be part of your claim but the amount they pay you in rent will be taken into account when your income is considered.

It's important to give the names and dates of birth of everyone in the household as this can affect how much Housing Benefit can be paid.

How your age may affect your Housing Benefit claim

There are no maximum or minimum age limits for claiming Housing Benefit. If you're under the age of 16, an adult will usually be the claimant, otherwise the social services department of your local authority will be responsible for your housing costs.

If you're a 16- or 17-year-old carer, your accommodation costs will usually be met by the local authority and you will be excluded from Housing Benefit.

You can claim Housing Benefit for you and your partner if you have one, and you can also claim for any children or young people you're responsible for. A child counts as a member of your family if you're responsible for them and they're under 16.

A young person over the age of 16 counts as a member of your family if you qualify for Child Benefit for them, for example if they're still at school or college doing a full-time course of GCSEs or A Levels or an equivalent course. This no longer applies when the young person reaches their 20th birthday.

How much Housing Benefit you can get depends on several factors, including your age (and the ages of your family members). The calculation for Housing Benefit compares your income and your capital to a level set by the law, called an applicable amount.

The applicable amount includes a personal allowance that depends on your age and the ages of anyone else you're claiming for. Higher rates of personal allowance are paid to single people over the age of 25, single people and couples over the age of 60, and single people and couples over the age of 65.

If you're in a couple and you're both under 18, you'll receive a lower personal allowance than you would if one or both of you were over 18.

If you're single and under the age of 35, the maximum Housing Benefit you can get may also be limited to the cost of a single room and shared facilities.

Over-60s

If you're over 60, the rules are less strict about how your capital is counted and how the amount of income you're assumed to receive from your capital (tariff income) is set. These over-60s rules don't apply if you get Income Support or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance. If you're a man aged 60-64 and you claim income-related Employment and Support Allowance, the Housing Benefit rules that apply to working-age (under 60) claimants will apply to you.

If you're under 60, you cannot claim Housing Benefit if you have over £16,000 in capital. If you're over 60 and you get the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit, there is no limit on the capital that you may have. However, if you get savings credit only, the £16,000 limit applies to you.

It's possible to apply to have your Housing Benefit claim backdated. How far you can backdate your claim depends on your age (generally, it's six months if you're under 60 and three months if you're over 60).

Discretionary housing payments

If you need additional help with housing costs, you can ask for a discretionary housing payment. This scheme accommodates many different needs, apart from the ones specifically ruled out below.

A discretionary housing payment may be used to clear rent arrears or as a top-up if your rent is subject to restrictions and you need an additional payment to prevent your rent arrears from growing too quickly. However, this may only be a temporary solution while you seek other accommodation.

Discretionary housing payments are not part of the Housing Benefit scheme, although they can be requested through your local authority. They may not be dealt with by the same department as Housing Benefit but the department can be helpful when you need additional help with housing costs. A discretionary housing payment is also possible to help with Council Tax costs.

A discretionary housing payment is not a payment of benefit. Therefore, you have no right of entitlement and no right to appeal against discretionary housing payment decisions. A discretionary housing payment could be a lump sum or a weekly sum. Payment is at the discretion of your local authority, and you will have to show that it's reasonable to pay you a discretionary housing payment.

You must be on at least the minimum Housing Benefit (or Council Tax Benefit if you're requesting help with your Council Tax liability) to request a discretionary housing payment. Minimum benefit is 50p a week.

How much is discretionary housing payment?

The maximum discretionary housing payment is the difference between the Housing Benefit you receive and your actual rent (or Council Tax liability). The payment cannot help you with items for which Housing Benefit is never paid, such as water charges and certain service charges. It also cannot be paid to make up for losses in other benefits, for instance because your Jobseeker’s Allowance has been reduced. See What costs can Housing Benefit cover, above.

A discretionary housing payment has to be claimed, but this doesn't necessarily need to be in writing. However, your local authority will have a form. This may ask you for personal details (such as your name and address), your reasons for requesting a discretionary housing payment and some financial details (such as income and outgoings) to show why you need additional help with your housing costs.

The discretionary housing payment decision

The local authority will give written notification of its decision, and their reasons for that decision.

Although there is no right of appeal, you may request an internal review of any decision. The local authority must exercise its discretion reasonably, but if you're not satisfied with the review, your only course of action is a judicial review, which will require you to take legal advice.

Your local authority’s budget for discretionary housing payments is limited each year. Money not spent by the local authority goes back to the government.

Discretionary housing payments are not counted as income for top-up or means-tested benefits, including Housing Benefit.

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Page last reviewed: 21/03/2012

Next review due: 21/03/2014

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