Answers to the most popular Housing Benefit questions
What is Housing Benefit?
Housing Benefit is to help certain people on a low income who pay rent for where they live. Housing benefit is a means-tested benefit.
Who can claim Housing Benefit?
You can claim Housing benefit if:
- you are a resident in supported exempt accommodation, or
- you have been placed in temporary accommodation by Portsmouth City Council, or
- you receive an existing legacy benefit that includes the Sever Disability Premium (SDP), or
- you were claiming Housing Benefit in another area, your Housing Benefit award included the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and you continue to meet the SDP criteria, or
- you have had a break of a month or less in a legacy benefit that included the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and you still meet the qualifying conditions for the SDP, or
- you and your partner have reached State Pension age, or
- you or your partner has reached State Pension age and started claiming Pension Credit for you as a couple before 15 May 2019.
Who can't claim Housing Benefit?
Some people aren’t eligible for Housing Benefit. You are not eligible if:
- you don’t fall into any of the categories listed in the “Who can claim Housing Benefit?” section
- you don’t pay rent
- you rent a former joint home from your ex-partner (there are exceptions)
- you rent from a close relative who lives in the same home as you
- you are the parent or guardian of your landlord’s child
- you live in your home as part of your job
- you live in a care home, such as a nursing home or old peoples’ home
- your partner, or both of you together have more than £16,000 in savings (except for some pensioners).
How do I claim Housing Benefit?
Let us know as soon as you can that you intend to make a claim, because housing benefit is considered from the day we receive your initial phone call, email or letter. All you need to tell us at this stage is your name, contact details and national insurance number.
Then you’ll need to complete our online form, provide supporting evidence. If you’re claiming council tax support as well as Housing Benefit, you can do this on the same Housing Benefit and council tax support form.
The forms are also available from one of our Housing Offices listed on the contact us page. If you’d like some help filling in the form, contact the Housing Benefit Support Team. All questions relating to your housing benefit and council tax support claim should be answered truthfully. Fraud occurs when a person gets more housing benefit than they are entitled to by knowingly withholding or falsifying information related to their claim.
How is Housing Benefit calculated?
It is a means-tested benefit, which means that how much you get depends on your income and circumstances, who lives with you, any other benefits you receive and any savings you have. If you have a partner, your combined income and savings will be taken into account.
Housing Benefit should pay for part or all your rent, not for other costs, for example fuel or meals. Any adults living with you can affect how much Housing Benefit you receive.
More information on local housing allowance and changes to housing benefits can be found on our Local Housing Allowance FAQs page.
How long will it take to process my claim?
On average it takes 28 days to assess a claim for Housing Benefit. It can take up to a further seven days for you to receive your first Housing Benefit payment.
It will take longer if you haven’t included all the supporting evidence we asked for, or if we need to contact you again to provide more evidence.
If you have an outstanding claim and are experiencing difficulties with your tenancy follow the link to the Housing Benefit team on the contact us page.
How is Housing Benefit paid?
- If you are a council tenant your benefit will be paid fortnightly to your rent account
- If you are a housing association tenant your benefit will be paid fortnightly in arrears directly into your bank or building society account or by cheque
- If you rent from a private landlord, we pay your benefit direct to you, but calculate it differently. For more information about how we calculate rents for private tenants using local housing allowance, visit our Local Housing Allowance FAQs page.
The Housing Benefit application form asks for details of the account you want to use. You can write to ask that your Housing Benefit be paid direct to your landlord every four weeks in arrears.
If you’re living in the property, Housing Benefit is usually paid from the Monday after the claim form is received. If we receive the claim form the same week the tenancy starts, we’ll pay Housing Benefit from the start of the tenancy. It’s only ever paid before you move into a property in exceptional circumstances, for example if you can’t move in because the new home is being adapted to meet the specific needs of a disabled family member.
I already receive Housing Benefit, can I appeal against a Housing Benefit decision?
If you’re unhappy with the outcome of your Housing Benefit claim decision, you may be able to ask for the decision to be reviewed. For more information read Housing Benefit appeals procedure.
I already receive Housing Benefit, can I backdate my claim?
If you or your partner are of qualifying age for pension credit, you don’t need to ask for your Housing Benefit to be backdated, it is automatically paid retrospectively for a maximum of three months prior to the date you make your claim, subject to meeting the income and capital criteria.
If you are of working age, you can request a claim be backdated for maximum of six months from the date we receive your request. We must be satisfied with the reasons you give for not claiming earlier, and satisfied that these reasons existed for the whole period for which backdating is requested. These reasons are known as ‘good cause’. It’s up to you to prove ‘good cause’, which means that any reasonable person of your age, experience or circumstances would also have failed to claim benefit.
Some examples of ‘good cause’ are if you:
- did not claim benefit while in hospital or within a reasonable time after leaving hospital
- were ill and had no-one to make a claim on your behalf
- did not understand that you could claim benefit – perhaps because of age, inexperience or language difficulties
- suffered a recent family bereavement
The more information and evidence you give in support of your claim the quicker a decision can be made. Sometimes we may need to write to you for more information or evidence, or ask you to come in to discuss your claim in more detail.
We’ll write to let you know our decision. If we decide that we cannot backdate your claim, we’ll explain the reasons in the letter. You have the right to appeal against a decision not to backdate your claim.
I think I've been paid too much Housing Benefit - what should I do?
There are several ways you can pay back overpaid Housing Benefit:
- If you’re still receiving Housing Benefit, we could reduce this each week by a certain amount. If you feel that the amount we suggest reducing your Housing Benefit by would cause you hardship, please contact us at the Housing Benefit Overpayment Debt Recovery Team.
- If you stop receiving Housing Benefit, we may send you an invoice. You can pay this invoice with a credit or debit card anytime online, using our automated phone payment service on 0800 876 6576 or contact us at the Housing Benefit Overpayment Debt Recovery Team. Have ready the reference number shown on your invoice.
- You can pay by cheque, payable to Portsmouth City Council. Post cheques to: Revenues & Benefits, Benefits, Civic Offices, Guildhall Square, Portsmouth, PO1 2BE. Please don’t send cash through the post. Please write the reference number from your bill or invoice on the back of the cheque and, if you need a receipt, enclose your bill or invoice with your payment.
- You can pay by cash or cheque in person at one of the Housing Benefit offices listed on our contact us page.
- If your landlord receives your Housing Benefit directly, in certain circumstances we may ask him to repay us.
Fraud occurs when a person gets more housing benefit than they are entitled to, by knowingly withholding or falsifying information related to their claim, such as not telling us about savings or money you or your partner have coming in, or failing to declare a non-dependant or partner living in your household.
Our counter fraud team may recover the money from you.
Direct earnings attachments
A direct earnings attachment is a method of debt recovery used by councils in relation to housing benefit overpayments. Using this method, employers are required to pay amounts from the salary of their employees to the council to reduce or clear the debt.
Advice for employers can be found in the employers guide to direct earnings attachments which explains:
- how to operate a direct earnings attachment
- how to work out how much should be deducted from the employee’s earnings
- how and when to pay deductions to the council
- employer’s responsibilities under the law
A payment schedule must be completed and sent to the council to give details of the amounts deducted from the employee’s wages. The completed schedule must be attached to any cheque payments or sent in separately when payments are made by BACS.
The full procedure is explained in the employers guide, but it is not intended to be a full description or statement of the law.
To see legislation for employers regarding direct earnings attachments, visit the official legislation website.
If you are an employer and have any questions not answered in the guide, please phone us on 023 9284 1643.
I have a carer. Will this affect my Housing Benefit?
It depends whether your carer is resident or non-resident. To find out more about how your Housing Benefit is affected by a non-resident carer, visit our Housing Benefit – Carers page, or contact us to discuss your particular situation.
Can I still get Housing Benefit if I'm not in the house?
Housing Benefit is usually paid for the accommodation you live in. If you are temporarily away from your home, Housing Benefit can sometimes still be paid, but only in certain circumstances. To find out more about temporary absences, visit our Housing Benefit – temporary absences page.
I'm moving, can I claim Housing Benefit on both homes?
If you move from one home to another, rent might be payable on both houses at the same time. You may be able to claim Housing Benefit for both homes for a maximum of four weeks if:
- the move from one home to another is permanent and your claim will cover an unavoidable liability of rent for overlapping tenancies,
- you can’t move into a new home because it is being adapted to meet the disablement needs of yourself or a member of your family who lives with you
- you had to leave your home for fear of violence and intend to return (maximum absence of 52 weeks)
- your family is so large that the local authority has had to house your family in two properties (no time limit)
- you or your partner is a student studying away from home and needs to claim benefit elsewhere. You would need to prove that it is unavoidable and that it is reasonable to pay benefit on both homes (no time limit)
If you need to apply for Housing Benefit on two homes, use the online contact form to tell us about your change in circumstance.
What if the number of people living with me changes during the year?
Changes to the number of people in your household may affect the number of bedrooms you need, which in turn affects the local housing allowance applicable to you. Changes which can affect your local housing allowance are, for example, a young person reaching the age of 16 or a child reaching the age of 10, or if there is a substantial change or improvement to the condition of your property.