These frequently asked questions help landlords to understand more about their tenants’ claims for housing benefit. Follow this link for more general information on housing benefit or contact us at the housing benefit team.
Housing benefit is financial help towards housing costs for people on a low income. The amount of housing benefit also depends on the claimant’s income and savings. There may be a deduction for other adults living in the household.
The person making the claim for housing benefit completes a housing benefit application form. If they are also claiming income support or jobseeker’s allowance, they sometimes complete all forms at once at Jobcentre Plus. They are encouraged to make claims for housing benefit as soon as possible, because any delay can result in loss of benefit.
To speed up Portsmouth City Council’s processing of the claim, it would be helpful if you, as landlord, could provide evidence of rent, to support the information given on the housing benefit claim form. The evidence of rent should include:
- landlord or agent’s name and business address
- date the tenancy agreement started
- amount of rent you charge for the property
- if any services are included in the rent, such as fuel, water or meals
- how often the rent is due (weekly, monthly or four weekly)
- name and address of the owner of a managed property.
If the tenant is already living in your property, housing benefit is normally paid from the Monday after we receive the claim form. If we receive the claim form the same week as a tenancy starts, we will pay housing benefit from the start of the tenancy. It is paid to the tenant, and it is their responsibility to pay their rent to you.
Housing benefit is usually paid to your tenant. Your tenant cannot choose to have their housing benefit paid direct to you. However, we will consider paying housing benefit direct to a landlord if we decide your tenant is vulnerable. By vulnerable, we mean someone who may have difficulty managing his or her money, or has built up rent arrears. We do not mean someone who does not want to pay his or her rent.
It is the housing benefit team which decides if your tenant is vulnerable. If a tenant cannot manage their money, we need to see written evidence of this. People who can provide this evidence include:
- the tenant themselves, and the tenants’ friends & family
- creditors or court orders, probation officers
- social services or welfare groups (including money advisors, care support workers, homeless teams)
- Pension Service or Department of Work & Pensions (DWP)
- GPs or hospitals
We will work with your tenant in making our decision.
Please make regular checks that your tenants are still in residence at any property for which you receive housing benefit payments. Contact us at the Housing Benefit team if you notice any changes in your tenants’ circumstances that may affect their benefit entitlement, such as moving out even when they are still liable for the rent at the property.
Housing benefit is legally your tenant’s income, so details of their benefit claims are confidential. This means that if housing benefit is not being paid direct to you, we cannot even tell you if a benefit claim has been made. But if housing benefit is being paid direct to you, we can tell you:
- the weekly entitlement
- when benefit starts and finishes
- when the entitlement changes.
We cannot provide any more information than this without written permission from the tenant. Some landlords ask their tenants to sign an authority when they move in, or make it a condition of the tenancy agreement that Portsmouth City Council can provide their landlord with the information he might need.
Housing benefit cannot normally be paid for any period before your tenant moved in, even where they have a liability to pay you rent before they move in. There are, however, exceptions. For example, if the new home is being adapted to meet the disablement needs of a member of the family, a claimant can be treated as occupying a property for up to four weeks before they moved in. Contact us or read our housing benefit frequently asked questions for more on backdating housing benefit.
If we think the overpayment was caused by fraud, and the landlord was not involved in the fraud, we usually ask the tenant to refund us. If we believe you should refund the overpayment to us, we will send you a letter explaining why we think it should be paid back, the amount and how to repay. If you disagree, you can ask for a review of our decision by contacting us in writing within one calendar month of the date on the letter.
If your tenant is eight weeks or more in arrears with their rent, we can pay housing benefit direct to you, even if your tenant has requested us not to. So it is important to keep in touch and let us know about any rent arrears, particularly if you are considering enforcement action (such as eviction or giving notice seeking possession) and you believe the rent arrears are in part due to non-payment of housing benefit. Remember – it is the tenant who is liable to pay the rent, not Portsmouth City Council.
Local housing allowance (LHA) is a way of working out the maximum rent Portsmouth City Council would pay a tenant who receives housing benefit and is renting from a private landlord. The amount of rent payable under LHA is not based on the rent charged, but is calculated on the area the property is in plus the number of bedrooms your tenant needs for the people in the household. The Portsmouth area rates are decided by an independent rent officer, who looks at the rents most people pay in Portsmouth. Housing benefit rules determine the number of bedrooms necessary for different sized households.
Landlords who have housing benefit paid direct to them will receive an automatic invitation to the next landlord forum, which is hosted by Portsmouth City Council’s housing benefit team. Landlord forums are not regularly scheduled, only when there are relevant topics to discuss.