Housing related benefits

If you have to pay rent on your home, Housing Benefit may be paid in full to anyone on a means-tested benefit such as Income Related Employment and Support Allowance or Income Related Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Means-tested benefits are paid to people with no or low income or savings. There are some people who cannot get Housing Benefit, for example full- time students, so you need to check first.

Housing Benefit is paid by your local authority. The amount of benefit that will be paid is only enough to cover what is called your ‘eligible rent’. This may be less than your actual rent. The local authority decides what they think is a reasonable rent, depending on where you live.

Social Housing

If you live in what is known as ‘social housing’, in other words you rent from your local authority or from a housing association, your Housing Benefit should cover all of your rent, although there are some strict rules about how many bedrooms your household should occupy and this will affect how much Housing Benefit you get.

Private Landlords

Tenants who rent from private landlords may find that Housing Benefit does not cover all of their rent. You will be paid at the Local Housing Allowance rate, which is a standard amount of maximum benefit set according to where you live. Up to 70% of private rented property in your area will have rents higher than will be covered by Housing Benefit. It also depends on how many people are in your household, as they will only pay the Local Housing Allowance rate for the number of rooms that they think you need.

Council Tax Benefit/Support

Council Tax Benefit has been replaced by a new scheme called Council Tax Support which is run by your local authority. This means that you may have to pay a small proportion of your Council Tax, but how much of a contribution you will be asked to pay depends on where you live, because different local authorities have different schemes.

People over State Retirement Age have been protected from this change, and at the moment they will have all of their Council Tax covered.

If you want to claim Housing Benefit or Council Tax support, contact your local authority. If you do not know who they are, use the local authority finder at https://www.gov.uk/find-your-local-council

The Bedroom Tax

From April 2013 new rules have applied which assess housing size according to the needs of each household for families that live in social housing (renting from your local authority or a housing association).

The rules say that:

  • one bedroom is allowed for a single person or a couple living together
  • one bedroom is allowed for any dependent children over 16
  • children under 16 of the same gender are expected to share a room
  • children under 10 are expected to share a room regardless of gender

An extra room will be allowed if there is a disabled tenant or partner who needs an overnight carer (but that carer doesn’t live there).

If a household has more rooms than is allowed under the rules referred to above, they will have a reduction in their housing benefit (this is what is known as the ‘bedroom tax’).

A household will lose 14% of their benefit if they have one more bedroom than they are assessed to need, and a 25% reduction if they have two or more extra bedrooms.

There are exemptions for foster carers (for up to one year, even if they have no foster child living with them at the time) and for disabled children.

What can I do about it?

Find out whether you can challenge the decision.  Ask them to reconsider their decision if you think the local authority have wrongly described a room as a bedroom because it is too small or perhaps because you have to use it as a dining room because your kitchen is too small.  Make sure they know that the room is not ‘spare’ if you are separated from your partner and need the room to meet childcare and parental responsibilities.

You need to ask your local authority for their housing benefit and council tax dispute form.  You are disputing what is called an under- occupancy deduction.  Ask them for a statement of reasons that explains how they made their decision, and also ask for it to be looked at again.

The Government has suggested that anyone affected by the bedroom tax has three main options:

  • move to smaller accommodation that fits within the rules
  • take in a lodger or boarder (although you do need permission from your landlord, this income will not be deducted from any means-tested benefit)
  • pay the extra cost out of other income

There is some financial help for people who may have very good reasons for staying in their current home, for example if you have substantially adapted the property to meet the needs of a physical disability.  The Government has given local authorities money for Discretionary Housing Payments which can be used to top-up housing benefit.

Discretionary Housing Payments

The Government has given local authorities money for Discretionary Housing Payments which can be used to top-up housing benefit for anyone subject to the ‘bedroom tax’ penalty.  Don’t forget there are exemptions for foster carers (for up to one year, even if they have no foster child living with them at the time) and for disabled children.

There is a Factsheet specifically about Discretionary Housing Payments, but information can also be found online here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/claiming-discretionary-housing-payments.

Generally these payments are considered a short-term measure, and the usual length of an award will be for 13 weeks in any period of 12 months.  The fund is designed to help you overcome a transition period if you have problems adjusting to a tougher household budget.

Payments can be made to help with the costs of moving to a different property.  If you would be able to move to smaller accommodation but are prevented by existing arrears or the need to pay a deposit, it is worth asking for a Discretionary Housing Payment to cover this.

It is also possible to claim a Discretionary Housing Payment if your housing benefit shortfall is likely to cause severe hardship, for example if it places you at risk of becoming homeless.

Longer term awards will be considered for people who may have very good reasons for staying in their current home, for example where:

  • there are substantial adaptations to the property to meet the needs of a physical disability
  • there are specific medical reasons that make it impossible for you and your partner to share a room.

Most local authorities will have a form on which to request a Discretionary Housing Payment.  If your authority does not, write a letter instead.  It is also possible to claim if your Housing Benefit shortfall is likely to cause severe hardship, for example if it places you at risk of becoming homeless.

These are national rules, although it is the local authorities that have to apply them. This is the guidance that local authorities are supposed to use: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/discretionary-housing-payments-guidance-manual.

You do not have a right to a Discretionary Housing Payment.  It is up to the local authority whether they give you any payment.  They have very little money to support this, so they are only likely to help if families can show they have exceptional need, have a significantly adapted home, or will benefit significantly from short-term support.

The key part of the form that you need to answer as thoroughly as possible is this section:

There is help available for people who are already getting some housing benefit but find it hard to make up the difference in their rent. This help is limited and it is often difficult for us to decide who to help, so please complete the following section with as much information about you as possible. You may wish to tell us about any problems that you have, for example health and family.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Obviously every person applying has different circumstances so we cannot tell you what to put here.  However, if you have adaptations to your property you need to explain what they are and perhaps how much they cost to install.  You also might want to explain your social networks if you depend on them, how your physical or mental health would be affected by the prospect of moving, or if you need to stay in your current accommodation if it keeps you (or your children) safe, and settled at a particular point in their education.

It is important to tell your story with as much detail as possible so that the person making the decision about you understands your situation.  The remaining section of the form asks for details of your income and earnings, your weekly expenses and any current outstanding debts.  You do need to show that you cannot meet the additional housing costs without this help.

If you receive Disability Living Allowance care component, or PIP Daily Living component, it may be taken into account as income by some local authorities.  When you list your outgoings, try to be clear about how that money is already being spent on things that are reasonably required to meet your disability needs, such as additional heating or laundry, or to pay a carer.  This will also apply to the Personal Independence Payment daily living component.

If you have already made a claim for a Discretionary Housing Payment and it was refused, it may be worth trying again.  Some local authorities will have money left in their budget.

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