Frequently asked questions about housing benefit and council tax support

 

What is housing benefit and who can claim?

Housing benefit is a means tested benefit to help with housing costs. It is also called rent allowance (if you are a private tenant or tenant of a housing association). If you or your partner are liable to make payments in respect of a dwelling which you occupy as your home, you can make a claim for housing benefit. This includes if you are a council tenant, private tenant, housing association tenant, sub-tenant or lodger.

Local Housing Allowance (LHA) was introduced on 7 April 2008.  It is a new way of working out  Housing Benefit for tenants renting accommodation from a private landlord. For further information please see the Local Housing Allowance Pages.

What is council tax support and who can claim?

Council tax support is also means tested and is paid to help with the cost of council tax. It can be paid in addition to any discounts that you may also be eligible to claim. To be eligible to claim council tax support you must be liable to pay council tax in respect of the dwelling and be resident at the dwelling.

I want to claim both housing benefit and council tax support - do I need to complete two separate forms?

No. One form applies to both benefits.

The easiest and quickest way to claim is to use the Online Benefit Claim Form.

Who is not eligible for housing benefit and council tax support?
There are some people who cannot get housing benefit and council tax support. For example

  • People who do not have a rent liability.
  • People who have over £16,000 in savings and capital.
  • Most full-time students, although there are some exceptions to this.
  • People who live in the same household as and, have to pay rent, to a close relative, in-law or employer

If you are unsure, you can always contact us for advice.

When should I claim?

You should claim as soon as possible, because you may lose benefit if you delay. If you apply late, and ask us to pay for a 'backdated' period, we might not be able to pay you for that period. This is because there are strict rules telling us when we can and when we can't pay for a backdated period.  You may lose benefit if you delay returning your claim form.

Do I need to provide any proof of my income?

Before we can award benefit, we must see proof of what you tell us about in your form. We must see original documents and not copies. Please do not send valuable items through the post. If you bring them into the Benefit office or a One Stop Shop we can take the details and give them straight back to you with a receipt to say we have seen them.

If you get Income Support, Income-based Jobseekers Allowance or Pension Credit we need to see proof of:

  • A National Insurance Number (NINO) for you, and your partner if you have one, such as a National Insurance number card, pay slips or letters from DWP or the tax office
  • The benefit you receive such as current award notices or letters from DWP telling you how much you get.
  • Your identity such as current passport or full driving licence
  • Amount of rent if you are claiming Housing Benefit, such as tenancy agreement. 
  • Non-dependant income if applicable 

If you are on a low income, we need to see proof of

  • A National Insurance Number (NINO) for you, and your partner if you have one, such as a National Insurance number card, pay slips or letters from DWP or the tax office.
  • Wages – your last 5 weekly, 3 fortnightly or 2 monthly pay slips, they must follow on from one another. If you have not got your pay slips you can get your employer to complete an employers certificate of earnings 
  • If you are self employed we need to see recent accounts.  
  • Any welfare benefit, for example, Jobseeker's Allowance, Tax credits, child benefit, state retirement pension
  • Capital, savings and investments and all your Bank, Post Office and Building Society accounts
  • Your identity such as a current passport or full driving licence 
  • Amount of rent if you are claiming Housing Benefit, such as tenancy agreement 
  • Non-dependant income if applicable  
  • Any other income

What if I haven't got all the proof I need?

You should send your claim form in anyway. Don't delay sending it in even if the proof we ask for isn't available at the moment. You can send the information in later, but we cannot work out your benefit without it.

What if there are other people living with me?

If you have friends, relatives or anyone over 18 living in your home, you may get less benefit. These people are called 'non-dependants'. An amount may be taken out of your benefit for each non-dependant who lives in your home.
Non-dependants do not include

  • Your partner
  • A child you get child benefit for
  • People under 18 years old
  • People in full-time education
  • People on youth training schemes.

No money will be taken out of your benefit for non-dependants if

  • You get attendance allowance
  • You get the care part of Disability Living Allowance
  • You are registered blind
  • The non-dependant is a paid carer provided by a charitable or voluntary body
  • The non-dependant is under 25 years old, and on Income Support or Income based Jobseeker's Allowance.

How is my benefit worked out?

If you get Income support, or income based Jobseeker's Allowance:

  • For council tax, you will get the maximum amount of support, based on the eligible council tax liability that we can use in your circumstances, i.e.100% or 80%, less any non-dependant deductions that need to be applied.
  • For housing benefit , you will get the maximum, after we have deducted things like any charges for any non-dependants who live with you and service charges. If you are a private tenant, the amount of housing benefit you get might also be affected by what the rent officer has said.

In all other cases:

We work out your benefit by comparing the money you get each week with your 'applicable amount'. Your applicable amount is what the Government says you and your family needs to live on each week. The applicable amount will be higher for some people - for example, if you are disabled or if you have a large family.

When we have worked out what money you get each week, if it's less than, or the same as, the applicable amount, you will usually get the maximum benefit. If you have any non-dependants living with you we might have to make deductions for them, from your benefit.

When will my benefit start?
If you qualify, your benefit usually starts from the Monday after we get your claim form. but, if you think your benefit should start earlier, you need to write and us and tell us.

Can I ask for my claim to be backdated and if so is there a time limit?

In certain circumstances we may be able to pay you benefit for a period before you made your claim. This is called Backdated Benefit. We can consider backdating your housing benefit for a period up to one month for working aged claimants and three months for people over 60.

We can only backdate your benefit if you:

  • Demonstrate 'good cause' for not making a claim for benefit earlier and
  • Your good cause lasted throughout the period until your written request for backdating was actually made.

How will you pay me?

If you qualify for council tax support we pay it straight onto your council tax account. You will get a bill, which shows the amount you have to pay, after the benefit has been awarded. 

If you are a housing association or private tenant who qualifies for housing benefit, we pay you a 'rent allowance'. The rent allowance can be paid to you or we can pay it to your housing association or landlord. We usually pay your rent allowance every four weeks, in arrears.  If you are a private tenant, we sometimes give you an 'interim payment' while we are sorting out your housing benefit.

There has been a change in my circumstances, what do I need to do?

You must let the benefit service know about any changes in your, your partner's or any other member of your household's circumstances that may affect your housing/council tax support entitlement immediately. It is an offence not to tell us about any change of circumstance that affects your benefit. If we pay you too much benefit, you will probably have to pay it back.

You can tell us about any changes by writing to the benefit service. It is important that you provide details of the change, the dates that the change occurred and proof where appropriate.

Examples of the type of changes that you need to report are as follows:

  • If you change your address
  • If your rent changes (private tenants only)
  • If you or your partner go into hospital
  • If you or your partner's income or savings increase or decrease
  • If income support or Jobseeker's Allowance stops
  • starting work or changing employer
  • If the amount or type of state benefit changes
  • If wages increase or decrease
  • If private pension increases
  • If tax credit is awarded or amount of award changes
  • If someone comes to live with you or if someone leaves your household
  • If the income or circumstances of someone living with you change (eg. they start work or their income support ends)
  • If you stop getting child benefit for someone

This list only provides some examples of the type of changes that may occur and does not cover every circumstance. It is important that you check with the benefit service if you are unsure if a change will affect your entitlement to housing/council tax benefit.

Can I make a claim after I start work?

You may still be entitled to housing/council tax support after you start work if you have a low income.  You will have to fill in a new housing/council tax support form providing details of your new circumstances. Where you have not yet received your first wage from your new employer you will need to ask them to provide us with details of your likely gross earnings and tax and national insurance deductions so that we can estimate your earnings to calculate your housing/council tax support entitlement. When you have received your first wage slip you will need to send them to the benefits office so that we can check details of your actual earnings and we may have to amend your claim again.

You can find further information on  how a change in circumstances, such as starting work, may affect your benefit with the online Benefits Adviser from Directgov.

Can I get any extra help in paying my rent?

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are payments to help people with their housing costs. They are only awarded if your circumstances are exceptional.

These payments are in addition to housing benefit and you must already be receiving housing benefit to be able to receive a DHP.  The DHP fund is cash-limited. If you wish to apply for a DHP, you must complete the form and provide as much information as possible. Please note that we cannot help with some parts of your rent, for instance if meals, heating, lighting, hot water or water rates are included.

To apply, please fill in a Discretionary Housing Payment form.

Can I appeal?

If you disagree with a decision we have made in the assessment of your claim you can challenge our decision.

You can challenge a decision in a number of ways:

  • Ask us (the benefits section) for the decision to be looked at again. This is known as an 'internal review'.
  • Ask us for an explanation of the decision - this is known as a 'Statement of Reasons'
  • Submit an appeal in writing giving reasons why you disagree with the decision.

The how to appeal leaflet will give you further information.