Where incomes are not enough to cover the cost of keeping a home, housing benefits like local housing allowance or money paid through universal credit ensure people have enough money to keep a home above their head.
The housing crisis means the housing benefit bill for the government is a large one.
There are more than one million people on waiting lists for social housing across England and while the wait for an affordable home continues, the private renting sector is often the only option. With the average rent rising by 8.6 per cent in the year up to September 2021, according to HomeLet Rental Index, the Exchequer pays out £23.4bn a year in housing benefit to help people keep up.
In fact, there are experts who argue that moving people out of private rented homes and into more affordable homes could slash that bill. Last year Centre for Homelessness Impact and the Chartered Institute of Housing found Chancellor Rishi Sunak could save £2bn a year by doing just that.
“We should ask hard questions about whether the very large sums paid in benefits to subsidise the housing costs of people on low incomes are being used in the most effective way,” said Dr Ligia Teixeira, chief executive of Centre for Homelessness Impact.
“While evidence suggests this financial assistance constitutes an important part of the UK’s homelessness ‘safety net’, our report shows that it is possible to make limited resources go further: for instance, by redirecting some of this money into social housing which can be better value and more secure for tenants.”
Housing benefit is set to rise in April as surging prices and the cost of living crisis are due to take hold.
Here’s everything you need to know.
Can I claim housing benefit?
Housing benefit is available to help pay rent if you’re on low income, unemployed or claiming benefits. However, it is being replaced by universal credit and most people will have to claim that instead.
But you can still claim housing benefit if you have reached state pension age.
You can also claim if you are in supported, sheltered or temporary housing. That includes B&Bs arranged by the council if you’re homeless or a hostel or a domestic abuse refuge.
How can I claim housing benefit?
There are two ways to claim housing benefit. The first is through your local council, find out how to contact them here.
The second way is through a pension credit claim if you’re eligible. You can apply online here or via post or phone up to four months before you are due to receive your pension.
You will need to provide evidence of your income, how much rent you pay and your tenancy as well as ID, recent payslips and bank statements.
Can you claim housing benefit and universal credit?
The housing element of universal credit has replaced housing benefit for working-age people. You are able to continue claiming housing benefit until you have a change of circumstances, such as getting a new job, being forced out of work due to sickness or a change of family circumstances. That change will trigger a migration on to universal credit.
It depends on how many people live in your home and how many spare bedrooms you have.
For people who rent their property from a local council or housing association, you will receive full rent through universal credit. However this can be reduced if the property has spare bedrooms. If you have one spare bedroom then your universal credit payment will be reduced by 14 per cent and that increases to 25 per cent if there are two or more spare bedrooms in your property.
As for private renting, the number of people living in your home determines how much help you receive through universal credit to deal with housing costs and it’s likely that it won’t cover your full rent.
Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is used to work this out for your area. LHA is tied to the 30th percentile of market rents in April 2020 – meaning it should cover the rent for the lowest third of homes available to rent in an area as of that time. However, since then the rate has been frozen even though rents have soared in the last year. This means benefits are less likely to cover rent.
If you have spare bedrooms not being used by people in your property you will receive housing costs to cover a smaller property unless there is need for an additional bedroom, for example, if some is unable to share due to disability or receives regular overnight care.
It is expected that an adult couple would share a bedroom, as would two children of the same sex or two children under 10 regardless of sex.
What is the maximum housing benefit you can claim?
The maximum housing benefit that you can get is the full cost of your rent.
However, if your rent is higher than the local housing allowance then the money you will receive might not be enough to cover the full cost. In this case, discretionary housing payments are available to make up the difference.
Can you rent from your family and get housing benefit?
Whether you can rent from a family member, including parents, children and siblings, and claim housing benefit depends on whether you live in the same property or not. If you both live under the same roof then you will not be able to claim housing benefit. If you do not live in the same property then you may be able to claim housing benefit if you fit all the other necessary criteria.
Can I claim housing benefit if I live with my parents?
If you live with your parents you will not be able to claim housing benefit.
Yes, you do still have to pay council tax if you receive universal credit.
Universal credit does not include any help with paying housing tax. However, you may be eligible for a council tax discount of 25 per cent if you live on your own. Discounts are also available if you are or live with a student or you’re a carer.
If you are struggling to pay council tax, you may be able to receive a Council Tax Reduction – also known as Local Council Tax Support. Contact your council to see if you are eligible.
How is housing benefit changing in April 2022?
Benefits and universal credit are set to rise by 3.1 per cent in April. This means more money will be sent to claimants, even if it is a smaller rise than the £20 increase that was in place for universal credit during the pandemic.
The rise is also lower than inflation, which is currently surging following the disruption of Covid. That means benefits will be worth less overall despite the increase.
However, the 3.1 per cent will see an increase in the personal allowance that the Department for Work and Pensions uses to calculate the basic living needs of a claimant and their family.
The personal allowance changes based on your circumstances. For single people under the age of 25, the personal allowance will increase from £59.20 weekly to £61.05, and will rise from £74.70 to £77 for people who are 25 or over, for example.
For couples aged under 18, allowances will now be £92.20 instead of £89.45 and £117.40 will rise to £121.05 for older couples.
As for universal credit, which includes a housing element, the personal allowance for single claimants will grow from £257.33 to £265.31 for under-25s and up from £324.84 to £334.91 for people aged over 25.
Meanwhile, for joint claimants aged under 25, allowances are now £416.45 instead of £403.93 and £525.72, up from £509.91, for over-25s.
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