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What to do if your benefits do not cover your rent

If you get Universal Credit or Housing Benefit, your benefits might not cover your full rent. This is sometimes called a rent shortfall.

If you cannot afford to pay the difference, you could apply for Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) from the council or get money and debt advice.

Check what your options are depending on your situation.

If you’re in work

Your benefits will be reduced based on how much you earn. This also applies if you live with a partner and they're earning.

Your income is calculated monthly for Universal Credit. The amount you get towards your rent could change each month if:

  • your earnings go up or down

  • you get paid weekly, fortnightly or every 4 weeks

Check GOV.UK to see how earnings affect Universal Credit.

What to do

Make a budget to keep track of how much you’ll get each month from work and benefits. MoneyHelper's budgeting tool can help you keep track of your income.

To check if you could claim any extra benefits based on your circumstances, contact a benefits adviser at Citizens Advice. They can also help with budgeting and reducing your costs.

If you live with other adults

When you live with other adults who are not your partner and not on the tenancy agreement, they’re called non-dependants.

Some money is taken from your benefits for each non-dependant who lives with you. Check our guidance on non-dependant deductions to see if you could be exempt.

What to do

Ask the person living with you if they can pay something towards the rent.

If they cannot, apply for DHP. Tell the council about your circumstances and explain why the person living with you cannot afford to pay. The council decides if you're eligible.

If you’re affected by the bedroom tax

When you rent from the council or housing association, your benefits could be reduced if you’re counted as having spare bedrooms. This is sometimes called the bedroom tax or the under-occupancy charge.

Check our guidance on the bedroom tax to see if it applies to you.

What to do

Apply for DHP. The Scottish Government has promised you can get DHP to cover any rent shortfall caused by the bedroom tax. Tell the council your benefits are reduced because of under-occupancy charges.

If you’re affected by the benefit cap

The benefit cap puts a limit on the total amount of benefits you can get. It often affects families with children or people who live in areas with high rents.

Check GOV.UK to see if the benefit cap applies to you.

What to do

Apply for DHP. Tell the council you cannot afford your rent because of the benefit cap. DHP is not counted as part of the benefit cap, so it will not affect your other benefits.

If your rent is more than the Local Housing Allowance

When you rent from a private landlord or letting agent, the maximum you can get is based on the Local Housing Allowance. Private rents are often higher than this rate.

What to do

You can apply for DHP to help pay the difference. It’s up to the council whether to agree to pay it.

If you cannot get DHP and you cannot afford to pay the difference yourself, ask the council for a housing options interview. They can help you find more affordable housing.

Find your council's contact details on

If debt repayments are taken from your benefits

Money can be taken from your Universal Credit to repay debts such as:

  • rent, council tax or utilities arrears

  • benefits overpayments

  • advance payments or budgeting loans

What to do

If debt deductions are making it hard to afford your rent or other living costs, you can ask for the deductions to be reduced or delayed.

The way you request this depends on what the debts are for. Check who to contact about Universal Credit debt deductions.

If you're building up debt, contact a money and debt adviser as soon as possible.

We have guidance on where to get debt advice and how it can help you.

If your Universal Credit has been sanctioned

Your benefits could be reduced if you do not meet a condition in your claimant commitment. For example, if you miss an appointment with your work coach. This is called a sanction.

Sanctions cannot be taken from the housing element, but they could make it hard to afford your other costs.

Always keep using your housing element to pay your rent so that you do not get into rent arrears. To avoid falling behind on rent, you can ask to have your housing element paid directly to your landlord.

Check the Turn2Us guide on sanctions to find out how much money can be taken and how long sanctions last for.

What to do

If you cannot afford your living costs because of a sanction, apply for a hardship payment. This is a loan that you’ll have to repay when the sanction ends.

Check Citizens Advice for help with getting a hardship payment.

Get help with other costs

If you need help to pay for food, bills or other costs, you could:

You can find a food bank in your area on the Trussell Trust website. Ask the food bank to tell you where you can get a referral voucher locally.

You can also find an independent food bank on the Independent Food Aid Network website.

If you think your benefits are wrong

Citizens Advice has guidance on:

If you need help, contact a benefits adviser at Citizens Advice. They can help you give the right evidence and challenge a decision.

Last updated: 4 October 2022

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England