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Housing Matters: Help with housing costs under universal credit when a couple splits up or a joint tenant leaves the home

Posted by Natalie Pearson 10/11/20

Elliot Kent, a Welfare Benefits Officer at Shelter, discusses how universal credit can help in some complex housing situations.

Advisers often encounter complex housing situations, for example where a relationship breaks down or a joint tenant leaves the home. Some claimants may be placed in a difficult position as the help that universal credit (UC) provides doesn’t match their liability for the rent. These claimants may need to ask for UC to be calculated differently. The same set of regulations can help in both housing situations.

Calculating universal credit

Universal credit is calculated by adding together a ‘standard allowance’ based on both age and whether the claimant is a single person or a couple, plus additional elements. Deductions may then be made, for example due to the claimant’s income.

The housing costs element is one of these additional elements and is intended to help pay for accommodation. One of the conditions for payment is that the claimant must have a liability to pay rent or service charges - or be ‘treated as’ having a liability.

Shelter Legal has more about how universal credit is calculated.

Liability to make payments

The tenant or tenants are normally liable for the rent payments. Two or more tenants renting a property jointly are ‘jointly and severally liable’ for rent. This means that the landlord can demand full rent from any of them.

The Universal Credit Regulations (SI 2013/376) don’t recognise this principle.

Where a UC claimant is a joint tenant the housing costs element of their claim is limited to the total rent divided equally between all the joint tenants. The Regulations set this out as the default position for both the private and social rented sectors. So, if the claimant is one of two joint tenants, they would be assessed as liable for 50% of the rent.

This rule may cause considerable difficulties, for example where friends are renting together and one of them moves out, or if a couple splits up. 

Joint tenants are left in a position where they are liable for 100% of the rent, but only a proportion of their housing costs are covered within their UC claim. The DWP refer to these situations as ‘untidy tenancies’. A person who remains in the home after their partner leaves would be in a similar situation.

Fortunately, the UC Regulations for both private and social sector tenants allow the rent to be allocated differently if the usual apportionment is ‘unreasonable’. Claimants who have to pay the full rent following this type of change in circumstances can ask the DWP to use its discretion and base the assessment on 100% of the housing costs. This request should be put in writing. The DWP has advised its staff on this issue.

Deemed liability when someone is not liable for the rent

A claimant who is not liable for rent may qualify for UC housing cost payments if they are ‘treated as’ liable under Schedule 2 of the UC Regulations. This may secure help with housing costs where the person liable for rent is not making rent payments. This would usually be the tenant.

For a client in this situation to be entitled to the housing costs element, the Regulations say that the following conditions must be met:

  1. The person who is liable to make the payments is not doing so.
  2. The claimant has to make the payments to enable them to remain in the accommodation.
  3. It would be unreasonable to expect the claimant to make other arrangements in the circumstances.
  4. It is otherwise reasonable in all the circumstances to treat the claimant as liable to make the payments.

This rule may be of use where the sole tenant has now left and their partner needs to make a claim for help with housing costs so they can remain in the home.

However, it is not limited to cases of relationship breakdown and may be appropriate in other situations. For example, if the sole tenant were sent to prison, another adult in the household could be treated as liable.

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