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Housing Benefit

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 4 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Housing Benefit housing rent low

Housing benefit is available to people who pay rent and have a low income. If a person is on income support or job seeker’s allowance they will automatically qualify for the full amount of Housing Benefit.

What constitutes a low income changes but is roughly equivalent to the personal allowance on an individual’s income before they have to start paying tax. This is currently about £5000. However, the amount of income that can be earned by an individual, before it starts reducing their entitlement to Housing Benefit, will vary according to their personal circumstances. These may include:

  • The individual’s age;
  • Whether they have a partner and / or children;
  • If they are disabled or are the carer of a disabled person.

An individual will not be entitled to Housing Benefit if they have capital worth more than £16,000.

Housing Benefit can be claimed by both council and private sector tenants but applicants must be 18 years or older. Different rules apply to students. Housing benefit is not available to homeowners. However, it is sometimes possible to get help on mortgage payments from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Who Provides Housing Benefit?

In England, Scotland and Wales Housing Benefit is provided by the local authority. In Northern Ireland it is provided by the Housing Executive.

What does Housing Benefit Cover?

Housing Benefit only covers the rent itself. Therefore if the amount payable by a tenant covers other charges, such as utility bills, any Housing Benefit received will be reduced accordingly.

How to Apply

Applications for Housing Benefit are usually made on special claim forms provided by the local authority. These can often be downloaded from the website of the local authority or collected from their offices. It should also be possible to request that a copy be sent out by post. Some local authorities may accept claims over the telephone.

Applications for Housing Benefit can be made up to 13 weeks before a tenant thinks they will need it. For example, if a tenant knows that they are going to lose their job they can apply in good time so that Housing Benefit payments will start as soon as they need them.

Where a couple lives together only one of them may apply for Housing Benefit.

How much Housing Benefit will be Paid?

If a tenant’s application is successful the amount of Housing Benefit that will be paid will depend on several factors:
  • The level of the rent;
  • How many other people live in the property with the applicant and whether they could be expected to help with the rent;
  • The applicant’s income and savings. If a tenant has savings of £6000 or more they are assumed to receive some income from them;
  • Any special circumstances of the applicant – such as a disability.

For council tenants the full rent will usually be covered by the Housing Benefit. However, for private tenants an assessor will look into the applicant’s circumstances before deciding how much Housing Benefit will be paid. In particular the assessor will have to decide whether the rent is reasonable. To determine this, the assessor will consider the following factors:

  • How much rent is being charged by the applicant’s landlord;
  • The rent charged for similar properties in the area;
  • Whether the property is the right size for the applicant’s needs.
If the assessor decides that the rent charged for the property is too high or that the property is too big for the applicant, the amount of Housing Benefit paid will be reduced accordingly.

How Payments are Made

The Housing Benefit for private sector tenants may be paid to the tenant, either by cheque or directly into a bank account, who should then pass it on to the landlord to cover the rent. Alternatively it may be paid directly to the landlord. The method will depend on the individual circumstances of each case – a tenant cannot choose how it is paid. Council tenants who qualify will simply have their rent reduced by the amount of Housing Benefit to which they are entitled.

Council Tax Benefit

If a tenant qualifies for Housing Benefit they may also be entitled to a reduction in the amount of Council Tax they have to pay. A separate application will have to be made to the local authority.

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