This page gives an overview of all the changes that will affect customers claiming Housing Benefit (HB). We will update this regularly.
If you also claim Council Tax Benefit (CTB), please go to our Council Tax Benefit changes page.
Changes to Local Housing Allowance (LHA)
The Government has made some further reforms to Local Housing Allowance(LHA) from.
1st January 2013 LHA anniversary dates were abolished, in readiness for annual uprating of LHA rates from each April.
1st April 2013 the LHA rates were uprated by the lowest of:
- the previous LHA rates plus the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for September 2012 (2.2%) or
- the LHA for three in ten rents for that bedroom rate at the previous September
However, from April 2014, the CPI rates will be replaced by the 1% cap, that the DWP has introduced for other state benefits for working age people.
Go to our LHA pages for more information.
Changes to Social Rented Sector working age claims have restricted Housing Benefit for working age claimants from 1 April 2013. Approximately 900 tenants have been affected by this reform in Merton. If you have been affected you have been notified in April 2013 or later if the 14% or 25% restriction applies at a later date. It is important that you act if you have been affected, because rent arrears could accrue and ultimately your landlord could evict you. We have included links to benefits and welfare reform pages for some of our major housing associations and registered providers on our landlord page.
Mr and Mrs H live in a registered social landlord property with their two children - a boy aged four and a girl aged six. They have a three bedroom property and they are charged £100 per week in rent. Currently their HB is worked out using the full rent of £100.
Under the new rules starting in 2013, they will only be eligible for two bedrooms. This is because two children under the age of ten are expected to share a bedroom. The amount of rent used to work out their HB will therefore be reduced by 14%. The amount of rent used to work out their HB will be reduced to £86 per week
The Government advises that you or your partner, if you have one, should:
- Use the bedroom calculator on the GOV.UK What you'll get websiteto find out if the number of bedrooms you have will mean your HB is reduced;
- Speak to your landlord as soon as possible to find out what their policy is on:
- re-housing you in suitable alternative accommodation
- you taking in a lodger to use the spare room(s);
- Think about whether you can find the shortfall from other income or savings;
- Make the move from benefits to work; or
- Apply for Discretionary Housing Payment , but please be aware these funds are limited and we will expect you to show what action you have taken in the list above..
From 15 July 2013 onwards, the Government has introduced new rules where the total amount of benefits for working age claimants who are not working will be capped as follows in Merton:
- couples will only be entitled to get benefits to a maximum of £500 per week.
- single people and couples with out children, who are not working, the maximum benefit they will get is £350 per week.
The benefits which will be counted are:
- Bereavement Allowance
- Carers Allowance
- Child Benefit
- Child tax credit
- Carer's Allowance
- Employment and Support Allowance, but not if the support component is awarded
- Guardians Allowance
- Housing Benefit, but not for Supported Exempt Accommodation
- Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit
- Jobseeker's Allowance
- Maternity Allowance
- Widowed Parents Allowance
It does not include Council Tax Support, social fund payments, in work and return to work credits, one off payments, non-cash benefits (e.g. free prescriptions) and passported benefits such as free school meals.
There are exemptions from the Benefit Cap too, if you, your partner or children receive:
- Armed Forces Independence Payment
- Armed Forces Compensation Payment
- Attendance Allowance
- Disability Living Allowance
- Employment and Support Allowance only with the support component
- Industrial Injuries Benefits
- Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
- War Disablement Allowance
- War widows or war widowers pension
You or your partner will be exempt if you are of State Pension Credit age.
You or your partner will be exempt if you claim and are entitled to Working Tax Credit. See GOV.UK Working Tax Credit webpage.
There will be grace period protection for 39 weeks for claimants or their partners who:
- who have been in a job for at least 50 of the last 52 weeks and lose that job through no fault of their own (e.g. redundancy) and
- have not claimed Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance in more than two weeks in the prior 52 weeks.
Belfast Benefit Cap Calculation Team will decide if a grace period applies in your case and notify you or your partner in writing.
Whatever you do - do something!
The Government advises that you should:
- Look at how much you will affected by the cap and decide if you can meet the shortfall from other income or savings. This may mean taking up help to assist you into work;
- Speak to your landlord as soon as possible to negotiate a lower rent if possible;
- Apply for Discretionary Housing Payment - but please be aware these funds are limited and we will expect you to show what action you have taken in the list above.
Once you know you will be affected by the changes above you should take action. Some of the action you can take might include:
- Get advice about getting into work - look out for incentives and help with getting into work over the next few months. The Government will be rolling out schemes to help with this.
- Review your budget. If the change is small you may find you can make small adjustments that mean you can afford the rent even though your HB has reduced.
- Speak to your landlord as they will need to consider their options too. Your landlord may be willing to reduce the rent charge or negotiate a lower rent that you can afford.
- Renewing your tenancy If your landlord agrees to reduce your rent when your agreement is due to be renewed, we can consider direct payment of Housing Benefit to them. See Housing Benefit payments to private tenants for more details. Check our advice below if your tenancy is due to be renewed before your LHA rate is due to be reviewed
- Finding a new home - Start looking at whether you need to find alternative cheaper accommodation when your 9 month's protection runs out.
- Investigate the further help Merton and other agencies can give you help to prevent losing your accommodation. See Further help below
We have included links to benefits and welfare reform pages for some of our major housing associations and registered providers on our landlord page. If you are a private tenant and need advice please call our Tenant Welfare Officer on 020 8545 3733.
Renewing your tenancy
If your tenancy is due to be renewed you and your landlord will need to consider the new rent charge and whether you will be able to afford it if your HB goes down when your LHA rate is reviewed.
If your tenancy is due to be renewed before your LHA review date, you should:
- Check the current LHA rate give you an idea of what you will get when your LHA is reviewed
- Decide whether the rent you are being charged under the new tenancy is affordable; and
Changes in your circumstance
The advice we have given above is based on your circumstances staying the same.
- If you move to a new property (including changing rooms in a shared house); or
- If a person moves out or moves into your household.
the new LHA rates will apply straightaway. If these circumstances change you should:
- Check the current LHA rate and.
- Decide whether the rent you are being charged or will be charged is affordable given the LHA rates shown.
Merton has some funds to help vulnerable households keep their tenancies for longer. These funds are limited and are unlikely to be a long term solution to paying the rent. If you have taken the actions above and you are still unable to afford the rent or if you feel you are unable to talk to your landlord about reducing your rent, speak to our Tenant Welfare Officer on 020 8545 3733, for more advice.
Merton Benefits Service
PO Box 610
Merton Civic Centre
Telephone: 020 8274 4903
Fax: 020 8545 3960