What is Housing Benefit?
Housing Benefit is a means-tested benefit to help people pay their rent. This page explains more about what it is, what it covers, and who can claim it.
If you rent from a private landlord, the amount of Housing benefit you get will be worked out using Local Housing Allowance rates.
How does it work?
Housing Benefit is a UK Government means-tested benefit, administered by local councils to help people pay their rent.
You could be:
- a contract-holder with a community landlord
- a contract-holder with a private landlord or
- a shared owner (but you can only claim for the rent or occupancy payments).
Housing Benefit cannot be used to pay a mortgage. If you have a mortgage, you may be able to get help with paying the interest through SMI mortgage interest relief if you claim certain qualifying benefits. These include income support, income-based job seekers allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, pension credit and universal credit. Follow the link for more advice on universal credit and paying for housing.
Get help if you think you may be eligible as it is possible that if you do not qualify for one of the above benefits at present your mortgage interest payments may allow you some kind of assistance when the DWP calculate entitlement.
What does Housing Benefit cover?
Housing Benefit can cover:
- your rent
- some service charges, such as upkeep of communal areas or a caretaker.
It cannot cover:
- charges for heating, hot water, lighting, or cooking
- payments for any food or meals provided
- charges for care and support.
For further advice on how you may be able to get funding for the above visit our cash in a crisis page
Who can claim?
You may be able to claim Housing Benefit if you:
- have a rent liability
- are the partner of the person who has the rent liability
- you are having to pay the rent as the person who has the rent liability is away from the home
- have a low income or
- are receiving welfare benefits.
If you think that you might be entitled to Housing Benefit, you should submit a claim form. The Housing Benefit department will let you know if you will be entitled to any help, depending on your circumstances.
When should I claim?
If you think that you might be entitled, you should claim as soon as possible. It’s best to do this by phone or in person, as a letter could get lost in the post. You should be sent a claim form for you to complete. The claim form should be returned with all the necessary information to support your claim within one calendar month.
Some councils offer online claim forms.
Claims can be backdated for up to one month from the date a request is made, if the Council are satisfied that you had a good reason why you did not apply earlier (eg bereavement, incapacitating illness). There is a different rule for people who are of state pension age. In their case the claim can be automatically backdated for a maximum of three months. For more information see our page on getting payments backdated.
I am going to claim, can I stop paying rent?
If you are waiting to hear about a Housing Benefit application, you are still liable to pay your rent even if that claim is not processed by the time your rent is due. It is best to continue paying rent at a level you can afford. If you are unable to pay your rent it is best to let your landlord know that you have claimed Housing Benefit. You could risk being evicted if you fall into rent arrears – see the section on eviction for more information.
Even if the council agrees you’re eligible for Housing Benefit, you might not get enough to cover your full rent and you would still have to pay any shortfall due to your landlord. The amount of Housing Benefit you get depends on your income, the size of your home and your circumstances. You may have your Housing Benefit reduced because of the ‘bedroom tax’ or ‘benefit cap’ and just because someone you know gets full Housing Benefit does not necessarily mean that you will too.
Claims can take a long time to process and you could be left with huge rent arrears. If after 14 days you are still waiting for a decision on your claim, and you have given in all the information requested, you can ask the HB department to start making payments on account/interim payments.
If possible, try to find out approximately how much help you might be entitled to when you hand in your form. If you rent from a council or a housing association, you should ask if they have a welfare rights officer who would be able to help you.
How Housing Benefit is paid
If you have a community landlord, your Housing Benefit is usually paid directly to your landlord.
If you rent privately, Housing Benefit is usually paid directly to you. You then pay your landlord the rent.
You can ask to have your Housing Benefit paid to your landlord if you are concerned about managing your money.
In all private sector cases there are circumstances when the benefit must be paid to the landlord, Eg. if you are in rent arrears of eight weeks or more, direct deductions are being made from your other benefits to pay rent arrears, or if you have left the property leaving rent arrears.