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The housing costs element of universal credit following a relationship breakdown

Posted on 18/06/21

Sarah Ventress joined NHAS last summer as a Welfare Benefits Specialist on the Advice Line. In this article, Sarah explains her role in the team and how she supports professionals with their queries.

Before joining NHAS, my experience was in providing welfare benefits advice and case work directly to the public. As a result, I understand the challenges our professional clients face when supporting vulnerable people with their housing and benefit issues.

In addition to homelessness advice, NHAS provides guidance on housing benefits, and the housing costs element of universal credit, supporting professionals to help clients who are struggling to pay their rent or mortgage.

Common queries from callers to the advice line include:

  • claiming benefits for two homes after fleeing one residence due to violence
  • exemptions from the local housing allowance (LHA) shared accommodation rate for under 35s
  • rules on claiming housing benefit instead of universal credit for temporary and specified accommodation

We can explain what the regulations say about these situations and give practical advice on how to challenge decisions if necessary.

Relationship breakdowns and ‘untidy tenancies’

Questions about benefit entitlement following a relationship breakdown, to help pay the rent, are common on the advice line.

I recently spoke with Claire* from Citizens Advice. Claire was supporting a client who was separating from his partner. He was not working due to ill health, and his ex-partner worked a few hours a week. The couple had a fixed term joint tenancy agreement.  They decided it would be best for the client to move out and his ex-partner stay in the property with their children.

Claire was concerned that the ex-partner would only receive benefits for half of the rent, as the tenancy is in joint names. She wasn’t sure if remaining on the tenancy agreement would impact the benefits the client could claim if he signed a new tenancy agreement in future.

I explained that the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 could allow the DWP to make an award of the housing costs element of universal credit on a 50% share of the rent. This is because the client and ex-partner would no longer be on the same benefit claim (schedule 4 paragraph 2 Universal Credit Regulations 2013).

The Universal Credit Regulations 2013 (namely schedule 4 paragraph 24(5) for the private rented sector and schedule 4 paragraph 35(5) for the social rented sector) allow the DWP to consider all circumstances of a case to make an award for benefit based on a 100% share of the rent. The ex-partner could do this. 

I explained to Claire that the DWP would base the ex-partner’s benefit award on a 50% share of the rent, on the basis that there are two joint tenants. After the relationship breakdown, the client and ex-partner would then each be considered their own benefit unit. They would then be able to claim benefits separately, rather than as a joint claim.

These regulations allow the DWP, if appropriate in all of the circumstances of the case, to have regard to the number of people liable for rent, and the proportion of payments each of them is liable for. This could include a request for the DWP to make an award of benefit based on 100% of the rent due, rather than a 50% share. I suggested to Claire that the ex-partner ask the DWP to consider that:

  • the relationship had ended, and her former partner had moved out
  • the couple had three dependent children
  • as the client is not working, she would struggle to find alternative accommodation and it would be beneficial for the children to stay in the family home
  • it would be reasonable to award benefit on a 100% share of the property

I also advised that, despite being liable for rent on the joint tenancy, there is nothing in the regulations that would prevent the client from making his own claim for the housing costs element of universal credit to pay for his own accommodation.


*name changed

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