Landlords and agents frequently asked questions
What is Housing Benefit?
Rent can often be hard to pay. However, people on low incomes can get help to pay their rent. This is called Housing Benefit. Housing Benefit is a national benefit, which is dealt with by local councils.
What is Local Housing Allowance (LHA)?
Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is a new way of paying Housing Benefit for people who rent accommodation from private landlords. It came into force in Plymouth on 7 April 2008. To find out more about the scheme, please go to the Local Housing Allowance pages.
What are the current Local Housing Allowance rates?
You can view both current rates and previous rates from our LHA rates page.
How does the capping of LHA rates to five bedrooms affect landlords?
The only change for most landlords is that if they are already renting to families that qualify for more than the five bedroom LHA rate, the LHA rates for such families will be capped to five bedrooms. There will be no changes to the arrangements for payment of Housing Benefit that is made directly to tenants. The tenant will be responsible for paying their rent to the landlord. More information on how this change may affect your tenants can be found on the room entitlement page.
Who can claim Housing Benefit?
Anyone on low income paying rent for the home they normally live in can claim Housing Benefit. This may include boarders who get meals as part of their tenancy agreement. Only the tenant can claim. You cannot claim for them. To get Housing Benefit a tenant must:
- be responsible for paying the rent
- be living in the property as their normal home
- make a claim for Housing Benefit
You and your tenant should not assume that the council will pay Housing Benefit until we tell you in writing.
Who cannot claim Housing Benefit?
Tenants cannot usually get Housing Benefit if they:
- live and pay rent to a close relative
- used to live with their landlord as a family member
- are renting a former joint home from their ex-partner
- are responsible for their landlord's child
- used to own the property which they now rent
- live in the home as part of their job
- live in a care home
- are a full-time student
If your tenant is not sure whether they can get benefit they should make a claim or contact their local council for more advice.
What is council tax?
Council tax is a way of paying for council services.
Who must pay council tax?
A person who owns and lives in a property (owner-occupier) or a tenant aged 18 or over living in the property is usually responsible for paying the council tax.
What is Council Tax Support?
People on low income can also get help to pay their council tax bill. This is known as Council Tax Support.
Who can claim Council Tax Support?
Any owner-occupier or tenant aged 18 or over who is responsible for the council tax can claim Council Tax Support.
Who cannot claim Council Tax Support?
In certain circumstances, owners who do not live in the property must pay the council tax. They cannot claim Council Tax Support. The most common example of this is a house in multiple occupation (HMO)
An HMO is where -
- tenants rent rooms in the property and share facilities, for example, a bathroom or kitchen (or both)
- each tenant has a separate tenancy agreement with only their name on it
In an HMO the landlord or owner is responsible for paying the council tax. However if you have tenants in the property, you can include their share of the council tax in the amount of rent you charge.
How does my tenant claim Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support?
If your tenant applies for Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance or Incapacity Benefit they will claim Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support (or both) at the same time. In these cases, the Jobcentre plus will send the relevant information the council needs to decide on the claim for Housing and Council Tax Support. Your tenant will still need to provide proof of rent directly to Plymouth City Council.
If your tenant applies for pension credits, they will be asked if they want to claim Housing or Council Tax Support(or both). The Pension Service will then send an application form to enable the claim to be made. This form is known as the HCTB1(PC). The completed form will need to be returned to Plymouth City Council. If it is returned to the Pension Service, they will pass the form on to the local Council.
Your tenants do not have to be getting income support, jobseekers allowance (income based) or guaranteed pension credit to get Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support (or both). In these cases the tenant must make a claim directly to Plymouth City Council by filling in a claim form. Once the application form has been completed it must returned to Plymouth City Council.
What information do you need to work out benefits?
When we get a claim for Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support (or both), we need to know -
- the tenant's and their partner's income and savings
- the tenant's family circumstances, including details about who lives with them
- the tenant's rent
They will also need to provide evidence of their and their partner's National Insurance Number and identity.
What proof of rent do you need?
We need proof of the rent the tenant has to pay. This is usually a tenancy agreement, but could also be a rent book or letter from you. The proof must include -
- the full address of the property they are renting
- your full name and address
- the full name of the all the tenants
- the start date of the tenancy
- the amount of rent charged
- how often the rent is paid, for example, weekly, four-weekly, monthly
- what is included in the rent, for example, meals, gas, electricity, water charges and the amounts charged for these services
- the date the document was signed
- how long the tenancy will last
- your signature
- the tenant's signature
It is also useful if this gives details of any arrears the tenant owes you.
Will Housing Benefit cover the full rent?
Housing Benefit may not cover the full rent that you are charging. Your tenant will have to pay any shortfall. If the rent includes charges for services (such as water rates), we will need to take the cost of these from the rent before we work out Housing Benefit. We will also check that the rent is not too high. If it is, we will work out benefit on a lower rent figure. In some cases we can reduce the rent figure we use if the home is too large for the tenant and their family. The rent figure we set,
less any service charges, is called the 'eligible rent'.
How do you decide if the rent is too high?
All private rents have to be referred to The Rent Service to tell us whether the rent is reasonable. We must do this if -
- the tenant is claiming for the first time
- the tenant moves home
The Rent Service will compare the rent with average rents for other properties in the same area. If the rent is higher than the average we will assess benefit based on the lower figure. We cannot work out Housing Benefit on a rent figure above the figure set by the Rent Service. If a tenant needs further help with their housing cost, they can apply to us for a discretionary housing payment.
Can I find out the eligible rent before the tenant moves in?
No you cannot find out the eligible rent before a tenant moves in. But, if a tenant is thinking of renting from you, they can find out how much of the rent we will use to work out their Housing Benefit before they decide to rent the property. They can do this by filing in a pre-tenancy determination form, which they can get from us. A pre-tenancy determination does not guarantee that your tenant will get Housing Benefit. Your tenant will still have to complete an application from and provide all of the evidence we need.
What if my tenant is a student?
Most students cannot claim Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support (or both). But some students may get Housing Benefit if they are -
- single parents
- a couple with dependant children
- getting income support or jobseekers allowance (income based)
If your tenant is a student and wants to know if they will get any benefit, they should contact us.
How much benefit will my tenant get?
If your tenant gets income support, jobseekers allowance (income based) or guaranteed pension credit, they will normally get the maximum benefit. That is all of the eligible rent and all of the council tax, minus any non-dependant charges.
If they do not get income support, jobseekers allowance (income based) or guaranteed pension credit, the amount of benefit depends on the size of their household (tenant, partner, and any children) and their income. If the tenant or any of their family is disabled, they may get more benefit.
The size of the tenant's household will affect the 'applicable amount' for their claim, which is set by the Government. The 'applicable amount' is the minimum amount the Government thinks the tenant needs to live on.
When will the Housing Benefit start?
We normally pay benefit from the Monday after your tenant makes their claim (either to us, Jobcentre Plus or The Pension Service).
If they are not sure whether to claim they should send us the claim form straight away, even if they are waiting for supporting documents, or they may lose money.
How long will the benefit last?
We will pay your tenant benefit indefinitely unless there is a change in circumstances. When this happens, we will re-assess their entitlement to benefit.
What can I do if my tenant has arrears?
The Housing Benefit regulations say that if a tenant has rent arrears of eight weeks or more, we must pay you direct, unless we consider it in the tenant's best interest not to pay you direct.
Please write to us if your tenant owes you eight weeks rent or more so we can decide what action to take.
How long does it take to sort out a claim for Housing Benefit?
All local authorities should pay Housing Benefit within 14 days of getting all the information they need to work out benefit.
However, benefit is often delayed because we are waiting for information.
What happens if the tenant's circumstances change?
You and your tenant should tell us straight away, in writing, about any change that may affect their benefit. If your tenant is on income support or jobseekers allowance they must tell the Department of Works and Pensions as well. If they are in receipt of pension credit, they will need to tell The Pension Service if their income or savings go up or down. The Pension Service will then tell us.
Typical changes of circumstances are -
- change of address
- change in rent
- size of family changes
- tenant stops getting income support or jobseekers allowance
- tenant's income goes up or down.
You or your tenant must report all changes to us straight away. It is an offence under Section 14 of the Social Security Administration (Fraud) Act 1997 for a person, dishonestly or without a reasonable excuse, to fail to let us know about a change in circumstances which might affect their entitlement to Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support.
What if too much Housing Benefit has been paid?
If we have paid you too much benefit, we can ask you or your tenant to pay the money back. We may recover the overpayment by -
- taking the money back from the ongoing benefit of the person claiming
- taking money from the payment we make to you for other tenants
- sending a bill to you or your tenant
What if my tenant or I do not agree with any decision you have made?
If you or your tenant do not agree with our decision, you may be able to appeal. The appeal rights are different for tenants and landlords. You can only appeal against our decisions on -
- whether we will pay your benefit direct to you or not
- whether we decide you should repay an overpayment or not
You cannot appeal against the amount of benefit or the dates it has been awarded for.
Tenants can appeal against any decision we have made about their benefit claim. We tell them about their appeal rights in the letters we send out. Any appeal must be in writing and sent to us within one month of the decision letter. Any appeal must give the reasons why you think the decision is wrong.
What information will you give me about my tenant's Housing Benefit?
If we pay Housing Benefit to the tenant we cannot give you any information about the claim, unless they have given us written permission to discuss their claim with you. We cannot even tell you if we have received a claim.
If we pay their Housing Benefit to you, we can tell you -
- the date the benefit starts and ends
- the weekly amount of benefit and how often it is paid
- the amount we are taking from the benefit to recover an overpayment
- details of any cheque paid directly to you
If we pay your tenant's benefit direct to your agent, we cannot give you any information. You will have to ask your tenant or agent for any information you need.Source: www.plymouth.gov.uk