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What is housing benefit?

Find out what housing benefit is, what it covers and who can claim it. Contact your council as soon as possible if you think you might be eligible for housing benefit.

What is housing benefit?

Housing benefit, or rent allowance as it is sometimes called, is paid by the council to help people pay their rent.

You could be:

  • a tenant of the council
  • a tenant of a housing association
  • sharing the ownership of your home with a housing association (but you can only claim for the rent or occupancy payments).

It cannot be used to pay a mortgage. If you have a mortgage and are eligible to claim benefits you may be able to get help to pay the mortgage interest.

If you rent from a private landlord the benefit you will get is called local housing allowance.

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.

Who can claim housing benefit?

You may be able to claim housing benefit if you:

  • have a low income, or
  • are receiving welfare benefits.

Who is not eligible to claim housing benefit?

You usually won't be able to claim housing benefit if:

  • you have saving of over £16000, unless you are in receipt of the guarantee credit of pension credit
  • you live in the home of a close relative
  • you are a full time student, unless you are disabled or have children
  • you are an asylum seeker
  • you are living in the UK as an European Economic area jobseeker.

How do I claim housing benefit?

If you think that you are eligible for housing benefit you should make a housing benefit claim. You can claim:

  • in writing - using a housing benefit claim form
  • by phone if your council has a special phone number for benefits claims
  • by email or online if your council allows it.

Your local council's housing benefit department will be able to help you with your claim.

See the page on how housing benefit is calculated to find out what your council will look at when working out your housing benefit. Including how the 'bedroom tax' may affect your claim.

When should I claim housing benefit?

If you think that you might be entitled to housing benefit, you should claim as soon as possible. It's best to do this by phone or in person. A housing benefit claim form should be sent out to you for you to complete. This should be returned with all the necessary information to support your claim within one calendar month.

If you think that you might have been entitled at any time in the last year and you have a good reason for not having claimed earlier (for example, because you were ill), you may be able to get your housing benefit backdated.

When and how will I get the housing benefit?

If you are eligible for housing benefit then your claim will start the Monday after you have notified the council that you intend to make a claim (this is normally made as backdated payment), and you have return your application form within a month. Housing benefit is paid automatically to your landlord.

If you pay your rent on a daily basis, for example, if you live in a hostel or boarding house or you are staying in temporary accommodation provided by the council because you are homeless, you may be able to get housing benefit paid from the first day you move in. If this is the case make sure you let the benefits department know.

I am going to claim housing benefit, can I stop paying rent?

Don't stop paying your rent unless you are confident that you will receive full housing benefit. You may not be entitled to housing benefit or you might only get help with part of the rent, leaving you to make up the rest.

Housing benefit claims can take a long time to process and you could be left with huge rent arrears.

If possible, try to find out approximately how much help you might be entitled to when you hand in your form. You should ask your council or housing association if they have a welfare rights officer who would be able to help you. You could contact a Shelter advice centre or Citizens Advice, your local council or other local advice centre. 

If you are having difficulty paying your rent and you are not sure if you will be entitled to full housing benefit, try to keep making rent payments at a level you can afford, and tell your landlord that you have claimed housing benefit.

Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.
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