If you're on a low income, you may be able to claim Housing Benefit.
What is Housing Benefit?
Housing Benefit is for people with a low income who have to pay rent. It's paid by your local authority and you can get it whether you're working or out of work.
How do I claim Housing Benefit?
If you're on Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance, call your local job centre - they will send details of your claims for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit to your local council.
Do I qualify for housing benefit?
You can't usually get Housing Benefit if:
- You have savings of over £16,000
- You live in the home of a close relative
- You're a full-time student (though there are exemptions - see below)
- You're an asylum seeker or are sponsored to be in the UK.
- If you live with a partner or civil partner only one of you can get Housing Benefit.
I'm studying, can I get housing benefit?
If you're studying, you qualify for housing benefit if you:
- Are under 19 and in Further Education (not Higher Education)
- If you're on a part-time Higher Education course
- You're on Jobseeker's Allowance
- You're disabled
- You and your partner are both students with dependent children
- You are fostering children
- You've taken a break from studying for illness or to care for a sick or disabled person.
How much of my rent will Housing Benefit cover?
If you're single and under 35, you can only get enough housing benefit to pay for one room in shared accommodation. If the place you stay in costs more you will have to make up the difference yourself.
If you are renting from a private landlord, your Housing Benefit will be calculated with the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rules. LHA is based on the average rents in your area, not on the rent you're paying. These rules don't apply if you rent from the council or a registered social landlord.
Housing benefit doesn't cover your utility bills (fuel, water etc) even if they're included in your rent. However, it could cover charges for some services, such as lifts, communal laundry facilities or play areas.
If, after your benefit is calculated, you are entitled to Housing Benefit of less than 50p a week, you won't get any at all.
Will the benefits cap affect my housing benefit?
The Government is planning to cap how much benefit you can receive a week from April 2013. Single people's benefit is capped at £350 while couples with or without children and single parents are capped at £500.
If you're due to have your benefit capped, you should receive a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about it. The money will then be deducted from your Housing Benefit.
To find out if you're going to have your benefit capped, add up everything you're claiming per month (don't forget housing benefit, which might be paid directly to your landlord).
When will my housing benefit be paid?
Housing Benefit (and LHA) are paid in arrears, which can make things difficult if your landlord wants you to pay your rent in advance. If you are having problems talk to your local council office. The benefit is usually paid directly into your bank account or rent account, but occasionally it is paid straight to your landlord.
How long do I have to wait?
Your local authority is required to deal with your claim and pay your Housing Benefit in 14 days, but it often takes longer. If you are renting privately and they do take longer it is your right to have a reasonable amount of money paid until they make the decision. The local authority can only refuse this if you didn't give them sufficient information or it is very clear that you will not be entitled the Housing Benefit.
But I can't pay the rent!
If you're stuck, you can apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) from your local council. Find out how by going to your council's website.
Universal Credit and changes to Housing Benefit
The government is planning to combine lots of the current benefits, including Housing Benefit, into one personal allowance called Universal Credit.
Universal Credit is currently being piloted in selected local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. Between 2014 and 2017, everyone will gradually move to the new system.
If you start a new benefits claim or your circumstances change, you'll be among the first moved to Universal Credit.
Please tell us about your experience in the comments below so we can keep our information updated.
What is the bedroom tax?
If you're claiming housing benefit and you have more rooms in your house than the Government says you need, you'll have to pay the 'bedroom tax', also known as an under occupancy charge. You'll lose 14% of your weekly rent for the first extra room and up to 25% for two or more spare rooms.
This bedroom tax is most likely to affect families - if you're worried you can find more details and advice here.
Bedsits and one bed flats won't be affected.
Under occupancy charges aren't law yet but are expected to start from April 2013.
Remember to tell your benefits advisor if your circumstances change - for example if you get a pay rise, new job or get married. If you don't you could face a £50 fine as well as having to pay back any extra benefit. See GOV.UK for more information.