Changes to Housing Benefit

From April 2016, the Government introduced changes to the housing benefit scheme. Some of the more important changes are listed below.

2 Child Limit in Housing Benefit

From 6 April 2017, any child born to households who have 2 or more children already will not receive the dependent child allowance in their applicable amount. For families on Housing Benefit on 5 april 2017 with three or more children, they will continue to receive allowances for all their children until they have to make a new claim for Housing Benefit. If you receive Child Tax Credit for more than 2 children, you will still receive the applicable amount for the number of children covered by Child Tax Credit in your Housing Benefit.

Universal Credit Full Service Roll Out

Over 2017, the full service Universal Credit scheme will roll out over the Council’s area. Full service Universal Credit is where all types of claimants (with some exceptions) claim Universal Credit rather than Housing Benefit, Income Support, Job Seeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance. Full Service Universal Credit is being rolled out by Job Centre area. The Job Centres which cover South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse areas and the dates of roll out are:-

  •  Swindon JCP – 1 February 2017
  • Oxford, Abingdon and Didcot JCPs – October 2017
  • Witney JCP – November 2017
  • Reading JCP – December 2017

There are some exceptions to having to claim your housing costs in Universal Credit and the main ones are:-

  •  Accommodation where the applicant also receives care, support or supervision. You will need to claim Housing Benefit for your housing costs and Universal Credit for your living costs.
  • Households with three or more children. You will need to claim Housing Benefit for your housing costs and either Income Support, Job Seeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance for your living costs, depending on your circumstances. You will also need to apply for Tax Credits.  

Backdating period

From April 2016, for housing benefit claimants who have not reached the age where they can claim state pension credit, the period where their housing benefit can be backdated is cut from 6 months to 1 month. The claimant still has to show continuous good cause for the period in question. The backdating period for the council’s council tax reduction scheme remains at 6 months.

Loss of the family premium

The family premium is not included in the housing benefit applicable amount for new claimants beginning on or after 1 May 2016 or for any existing claimants who have a child or become responsible for a dependent for the first time after 30 April 2016. If a current claimant stops having the family premium included in their claim because they no longer have responsibility for a dependent, then they will not be able to regain access to the family premium if they become responsible for a dependent again. Claimants who are receiving a passporting benefit (Income Support, income based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or guaranteed element of Pension Credit) are still entitled to the family premium if they cease to claim the passporting benefit and claim housing benefit. The passporting benefit only provides a disregard for income and capital so the entitlement to the family premium is still there when calculating the housing benefit entitlement. Those claimants not on a passporting benefit retain the family premium if they were entitled to it on 30 April 2016 until:

  • they make a new claim for housing benefit; or
  • they no longer have responsibility for any children or young people

Benefit cap amounts

This has been brought in since November 2016, the amount of the Government’s benefit cap will be lowered from £26,000 per annum to £23,000 (£15,410 for single people) in London and £20,000 (£13,400 for single people) outside London. Those affected by the new amounts will be written to by the Department for Work and Pensions before the cap is in place and advised as to how they can move off the benefit cap. For more details on how the benefit cap works, see the section 'The benefit cap' below.  For more information about the benefit cap changes visit Benefits Cap at Gov.UK

New temporary absence rules

From 28 July 2016, the Government has cut the amount of time claimants can stay outside Great Britain before their Housing Benefit will stop.

Before, Housing Benefit had a general rule that it would stop after 13 weeks, whether that absence was within Great Britain or overseas. This has now been reduced to 4 weeks for people who are absent outside Great Britain. There are certain exemptions:

  •  if the absence from Great Britain is in connection with the death of: a partner; child or young person for whom they or their partner are responsible; their or their partner’s close relative; or a close relative of a child or young person for whom they or their partner are responsible, then the period of absence may be extended by up to 4 further weeks if the relevant authority considers it unreasonable to expect the person to return within the first 4 weeks.
  •  if the person is a member of the armed forces away on operations, a mariner or a continental shelf worker, and is absent from Great Britain, the person may be treated as occupying the dwelling as their home whilst they are temporarily absent, for up to 26 weeks.
  •  if the person is in hospital or a similar institution, they can be temporarily absent up to 26 weeks.
  •  if the person, his partner, or dependent child is undergoing medical treatment or medically approved convalescence in accommodation other than residential accommodation, they can be temporarily absent or up to 26 weeks.
  •  if the person is receiving medically approved care provided in accommodation other than residential accommodation, they can be absent up to 26 weeks.

For those temporarily absent from when the new rules are introduced, the old rules will still apply until they return home.

NOTE: the new regulations apply to people absent outside of Great Britain and not the United Kingdom. This means that those temporarily absent in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Isles will be affected by these new rules.

Local housing allowance rates in social housing

For tenancies signed or renewed after 1 April 2016 (or 1 April 2017 for supported accommodation tenancies), the local housing allowance rates will be applied to the eligible rent (this is the rent after ineligible services, such as water rates, have been deducted and any deduction for the under occupancy charge) for those renting from social landlords. If the local housing allowance rate is lower than the eligible rent, then the maximum housing benefit (or the housing element of Universal Credit) which can be paid will be the local housing allowance rate. This restriction will not be imposed until 1 April 2019, but those people signing tenancies after 1 April 2016 (1 April 2017 for those in supported accommodation) will need to bear this in mind. This will affect particularly young people aged under 35 who will be subject to the shared accommodation rate, as the local housing allowance rate is very likely to be lower than the social housing rent.

The Government has not brought forward any legislation to put this into effect yet, so there is some uncertainty as to exactly who will be affected by this change and by how much.

Housing Costs for People Aged 18-21 Years

In Universal Credit full service areas (see above for dates these will be rolled out) 18 to 21 year old who are single will not be able to claim housing costs. There will be a number of exceptions, the main ones being:-

  •  People in temporary accommodation.
  • People where it is deemed inappropriate for them to live their parents, including (but not limited to) where there would be a serious threat to their physical or mental health.
  • People who live in accommodation where they receive care, support or supervision (they would claim Housing Benefit for their housing costs).
  • People who work for at least 16 hours per week at the national minimum wage.
  • People who had been in work for at least 16 hours per week at the national minimum wage for the previous 6 months.

Working age claimants in social housing from April 2013

If you and your partner are both under the age to receive Pension Credit and the property you occupy has more bedrooms than your household needs, your housing benefit will be reduced by 14% if you have one extra bedroom, or 25% if you have two or more extra bedrooms. The following people are allowed a bedroom:

• An adult couple.
• A person aged over 16 years.
• 2 children aged 15 or under of the same sex.
• 2 children aged 9 or under, regardless of their sex.

If there are two severely disabled children who need a bedroom each because of their disabilities, you can be awarded an extra bedroom.  The Government has provided draft regulations on the criteria for when disabled children can share a room (see downloads section of this page).

The under occupancy charge will not apply in the following circumstances:

• Hostels.
• Mooring charges or caravan pitches.
• Temporary accommodation.
• Shared owners i.e. people who own a share of their home and pay rent on the remaining share.
• Sheltered and Supported Housing. This type of housing is defined as properties “provided by a non-metropolitan county council, housing association or registered charity or voluntary organisation where that body or person acting on its behalf provides care, support or supervision”.

If you are a disabled person who has a non-resident overnight carer, you will be allocated an extra bedroom. There are no exemptions for other disabled people.

If you have a shared care arrangement for children, any child can only be considered to be living in one household. Where the shared care is considered to be equal between both parents, then the child will be considered to be living in the household with the parent who receives child benefit.

Foster children are not considered as occupiers when counting the number of bedrooms required.

If there are joint tenants in the property, the reduction will be apportioned between them e.g. there are 3 tenants, with one extra bedroom and the eligible rent is £100. It is apportioned £100 - £14 ÷ 3 = £28.67 maximum Housing Benefit for each tenant.  

The Government has suggested some ways to alleviate the effects of the under occupancy charge:

• You could apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment from the council. This will only be a temporary measure (if you qualify for it) in order to allow you time to make other arrangements.
• Move to a smaller home. You should talk to your landlord about this.
• Take in a lodger. You should get your landlord’s permission for this before doing so. It may also affect the amount of benefit you receive.
• Increase your hours of work.  You must bear in mind that if your earnings increase, your amount of benefit will also go down.

Changes in your local housing allowance annual up-rating

From April 2013, your local housing allowance rate is up-rated annually every April. 

Changes in your household which happen in the year which also change the local housing allowance rate you are entitled to will continue to be assessed as normal.

If your rent is below the local housing allowance rate and you have a rent increase, that increase is now assessed at the time it happens (rather than waiting until the anniversary date). The increase is only allowed up to the local housing allowance rate.

The benefit cap

If you are a single working age person, the total amount of benefit you receive will be capped at £350 per week (£18,200 per annum). If you are a working age family, the total amount of benefit you receive will be capped at £500 per week (£26,000 per annum).

Any excess benefit above these amounts will be deducted from your housing benefit. If you are, for example, £100 per week above the limit, but your housing benefit is only £50 per week, you will only be deducted £49.50 per week Housing Benefit (you have to have a minimum of £0.50 Housing Benefit in payment). If the deduction puts you into financial difficulties, you can apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment from the council.

The benefits that will count towards the weekly cap are:

• Bereavement Allowance/ Widowed Parent’s/Mother’s Allowance.
• Carer’s Allowance.
• Child Benefit.
• Child Tax Credit.
• Employment and Support Allowance (contribution based and income based) except where the Support Component has been awarded.
• Guardian’s Allowance.
• Housing Benefit.
• Incapacity Benefit.
• Income Support.
• Job Seeker’s Allowance (contribution based and income based).
• Maternity Allowance.
• Severe Disablement Allowance.
• Universal Credit.

• Widow’s Pension.

Certain benefits will not be counted when calculating the level of the cap:

• Bereavement payment.
• Council Tax Support.
• Discretionary Housing Payment.
• Social Fund payments.
• Budgeting Loans.
• Cold Weather Payments.
• Community Care Grants.
• Crisis Loans.
• Funeral Payments.
• Sure Start Maternity Grants.
• Pension Credit.
• Residency Order Payments.
• Statutory Adoption Pay – paid by employers.
• Statutory Maternity Pay – paid by employers.
• Statutory Paternity Pay – paid by employers.
• Statutory Sick Pay – paid by employers.
• Winter Fuel Payment.

Claimants in receipt of certain benefits are exempt from the cap. These are:

• Working Tax Credit.
• Disability Living Allowance.
• Personal Independence Payments
• Industrial Injuries Benefits.
• Any equivalent payments made as part of a war disablement pension or the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme for the above benefits.
• Support Component of Employment Support Allowance
• War Widows and Widowers.

There will be a 9 month grace period during which the cap does not apply to claimants who have been in work for the previous 12 months and who lose their job through no fault of their own. If you lose your job before the cap comes into force, the grace period runs from the date you lost your job.

Universal credit

A new benefit called Universal Credit is being introduced nationally in stages. This will replace a number of benefits, including housing benefit. This will be administered by the Department for Work and Pensions and you will receive a housing credit included in your Universal Credit to help pay your rent. More information is available from the Department for Work and Pensions This link will take you to an external website... .  

Abolition of council tax benefit and council tax support scheme

From 31 March 2013, council tax benefit was abolished. Council tax benefit was a national scheme where the Government funded the amounts paid out in council tax benefit awards in full. In its place, each council has to design its own scheme and the Government gives a set grant to the council to pay for it. This grant is set at 90% of the amount given to councils to pay for council tax benefit, based on a forecast of council tax benefit expenditure for 2013-14.

The council, along with the other Oxfordshire District Councils, the County Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner for the Thames Valley have agreed not to pass on the cut to applicants and absorb the costs themselves. The Oxfordshire-wide scheme has been designed to replicate the old council tax benefit scheme as closely as possible in order to avoid as much disruption to present claimants as possible, taking into account legislative requirements set out in the new Council Tax Reduction Scheme.

Those who received council tax benefit automatically transferred onto the new council tax reduction scheme without having to apply for it.

There are some differences between council tax benefit and the new council tax reduction scheme, including:

• Changes in your circumstances must be reported within 21 days, rather than 1 calendar month.
• Appeals will not be to the First-tier Tribunal Service, but to the Valuation Tribunal for England. This may result in an appeal being heard by both Tribunals on the same dispute if you are in receipt of housing benefit along with a council tax reduction.
• If you apply for housing benefit via the Department for Work and Pensions, it will not be regarded as a claim for a council tax reduction. As it will contain most of the information the council needs to calculate a council tax reduction, you will be asked to sign a 1 page form from the council stating you wish to claim a council tax reduction also.

If you require further assistance, please contact Benefits.

Last reviewed: 05 - 04 - 2017

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