Successive reforms to Welfare Benefits have been introduced in the past few years. These changes could significantly affect the amount of money you have coming in each week and may well reduce the amount of help with rent you get as well as how it is paid.
Rates of Benefits
The government had previously frozen the rate of benefits, except pensioner and disability benefits, so they did not rise with inflation. This came to an end in 2020. Additionally, in response to COVID-19, the government announced an extra £20 per week increase to the rates of Universal Credit, Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit. This extra £20 is due to be removed from April 2021.
The government gave extra money to councils to awarded extra Council Tax Support/Reduction to current claimants of that benefit for this financial year only. How this is awarded may vary from council to council.
Also, although not relevant to social housing tenants, the government also announced a significant increase in the maximum amounts payable under the Local Housing Allowance, meaning market/private tenants can apply for much more help towards housing than before.
Suspension of face to face appointments
In response to COVID-19, the government announced anyone classed as a jobseeker will not be expected to attend the Jobcentre or demonstrate they have been looking for work for at the least first three months of the crisis. Claimants will not be expected to attend face-to-face medical assessments for Personal Independence Payments, Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance; these may be conducted over the phone instead. People appealing decisions on their benefits may have their appeal heard by phone or video call instead of at a court.
Awards of Personal Independence Payments coming to an end/due to be reviewed in first few months of 2020/21 are being extended automatically by 6 months. However, if you have a change of health which you think means you should be entitled to more, you can still report these and have them decided on. Note, asking for your claim to be reviewed can result in a lesser award so we recommend you contact our Benefits Advice team for advice on this.
Parents are currently unable to register births due to COVID-19, however they can still claim Child Benefit for their new-born despite not having a birth certificate.
Help with funeral expenses is available through the Social Fund for some on low incomes. The base rate which can be awarded has been increased by £300 to £1000. For help to claim this, please contact our Benefits Advice team.
Severe Disability Premium and Universal Credit:
A Severe Disability Premium is an extra amount of money that can be paid with means-tested benefits where the claimant is entitled to PIP with the daily living component, Attendance Allowance or Disability Living Allowance with the care component of the middle or higher rates; no-one claims Carer’s Allowance for looking after them; and they do not live with anyone else with the exception of children or other people entitled to the same disability benefits.
Someone who would otherwise have to claim Universal Credit will not have to claim it if they are entitled to a Severe Disability Premium on any benefit they received in the previous month, or would have received had they been claiming ‘Housing Benefit’, ‘Income Support’, ‘Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance’ or ‘Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance’. They can instead make a new claim for those benefits instead, and Tax Credits too. The government has said this will be the case until 21/01/2021.
We are aware of some cases where people are being wrongly told by the DWP, the HMRC or their Local Authority, that they cannot claim the old style benefits. If you are having difficulty please contact our Benefits Advice team.
Some people might have had to claim Universal Credit before this restriction came into place which means they might be worse off financially. The government has now started to compensate those people by paying extra Universal Credit plus backdated amounts if, at the time of looking at the claim, the claimant would still meet the criteria for Severe Disability Premium.
If you do not receive a Severe Disability Premium but think you should, or you are not sure whether you receive it or not, please contact our Benefits Advice team.
Pension Credit changes:
From 01/02/2019 pensioners who have responsibility for children can no longer make a new claim to Tax Credits, and extra amounts to cover the cost of supporting a child are included in their Pension Credit instead.
As of 15/05/2019 couples are no longer able to make a new claim for Pension Credit (and/or Housing Benefit as a pensioner) until both members of the couple have reached their own state retirement ages. People affected will have to claim Universal Credit instead. This does not affect couples who are already entitled to Pension Credit and/or Housing Benefit on 14/05/2019 for as long as they remain entitled.
This means that if a single pensioner enters a relationship with someone who has not reached their state retirement age yet, any entitlement to Pension Credit or Housing Benefit will end and they will have to claim Universal Credit instead if they need to make a benefit claim as a couple.
Anyone included on a Universal Credit claim when they have already reached their state retirement age will not be expected to meet any conditions in return for the benefit but their working-age partner will be subject to all the normal conditions.
If you would like advice on whether these rules affect you please contact our Benefits Advice team.
Universal Credit is a new type of benefit which is being gradually introduced across the country for working-age people. It replaces a number of current benefits. For more information visit our Universal Credit page.
The Benefit Cap is a cap on the total benefits a claimant can receive. It is set at £20,000 per year per family outside of London, equivalent to about £385 per week. For single people with no children the cap is £13,400 per year or about £258 per week.
How does it work?
The Benefit Cap works by adding up all of the money you receive from certain benefits (click here for a list).
However, if you, your partner or children who you get Child Benefit for are entitled to any of the following benefits, you should be exempt:
- Working Tax Credit
- Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payments
- Attendance Allowance
- Industrial Injuries benefits
- The Support component of Employment and Support Allowance
- The ‘Limited Capability for Work Related Activity element’ of Universal Credit
- War Widow’s or War Widower’s Pension
- Carer’s Allowance
- Guardian’s Allowance
Also, if you claim Universal Credit and have net monthly earnings of at least £542.88 in your monthly assessment period, you will be exempt.
Finally, if you were previously in work for at least 50 weeks out of the last 52 weeks and were not claiming Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance during that time, then the Benefit Cap is not applied for the first 39 weeks from when you stopped working. This is called the ‘grace period’.
If you’re not exempt and your total benefit income adds up to more than the cap, then your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit is reduced by the amount over the cap you are. If you do not receive Housing Benefit or Universal Credit then you won’t be affected.
For example if your total benefit income is £415 per week, this is £30 over the £385 per week cap, so your Housing Benefit will be reduced by £30 per week. This means you will have to pay this towards your rent instead. If you get Universal Credit this works in the same way, but is assessed monthly instead.
Am I affected?
Are you affected by the Cap and need help?
Then please call us on 0300 123 5544 to ask for our Benefit Advice Team or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
We can check your benefit entitlements, help you to apply for any of the exempting benefits if they apply or otherwise discuss your options with you.
If you are of working age and claiming Housing Benefit, or help with rent on Universal Credit, but have what the Government deems to be a ‘spare’ bedroom, your benefit may be reduced. Your Housing Benefit, or your Housing Element part of your Universal Credit, will be reduced by 14% for one spare bedroom, and 25% for two or more spare bedrooms.
The following people need their own bedroom:
- a couple
- a single person over the age of 16
- two children under 16 of the same sex
- two children under 10 regardless of their sex
- a child under 16 where there is no other child to share with them
- someone who cannot share a bedroom due to a disability
- someone who provides regular over-night care to an occupant
- an extra bedroom if you are a foster carer.
Here are examples of circumstances under which the Government would consider you have a ‘spare’ bedroom. It is important to note this does not affect people claiming pension-age benefits:
- You and your partner live in a three bedroom house and have a boy aged eight and a girl aged three. The Government says that you only need a two bedroom house.
- You live by yourself or with a partner in a two bedroom flat.
- You live by yourself or with a partner in a specially adapted two bedroom bungalow because you are disabled. The only exception to this is if you need a carer to stay overnight on a regular basis.
The Citizens Advice offers a simple Bedroom Calculator to help identify how many bedrooms your household is entitled to.
Bereavement Support Payment is help for someone who is of working age and bereaved of their spouse or civil partner. This replaced previous benefits for this purpose from April 2017, although some people may still be in receipt of Widowed Parents Allowance.
To claim Bereavement Support Payment, visit the gov.uk website. Help is still available towards the cost of a funeral through the Social Fund, click here to claim. If you need help, call Customer Services on 0300 123 5544 and ask to speak to a Welfare Benefits Advisor.
From 6 April 2017 the government has introduced the two child limit – which is the concept of not financially supporting families to have more than two children while claiming benefits.
Any children born before 6 April 2017 are protected from this change. However, a child born after that date who is not the first or second child on the claim will not attract financial help unless:
- they are not the first child in a multiple birth
- they were formally adopted in the UK
- they are the child of a child under 16 you claim for
- they are being looked after under an arrangement through social services
- they were conceived as the result of non-consensual conception or in a coercive or controlling relationship, and the mother does not live with the perpetrator.
Note that the following types of benefit are not affected:
- Child Benefit
- Child Maintenance
- Disabled Child Elements of Child Tax Credits and Universal Credit
- Childcare Element of Working Tax Credit and Universal Credit
- Healthy Start Vouchers
- Free School Meals
Also, all children are still counted when considering how many bedrooms your household needs for Housing Benefit and Universal Credit” (see Bedroom Tax below).
Removal of Work-Related Activity Component – From 6 April 2017, new claims for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit will no longer award the ‘Work Related Activity Component’ if you are judged to be too ill to work but not too ill to take part in some activity, like training, to get you ready for work in the future. Instead, you will receive the same amount as someone looking for work.
This does not affect those who currently receive it or who started their claim before 6 April 2017.
Please contact Customer Services on 0300 123 5544 and ask to speak to a Welfare Benefits Advisor.