If you receive Housing Benefit or Disability Living Allowance, you should be ready for changes the Government has brought in. These could affect both the way you receive benefit and the amount of benefit you are entitled to. There main issues, are:
The Government is changing the way a number of benefits are being paid by bundling them together into one payment. This new benefit is called Universal Credit and is now running in Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire.
As part of the changes to the benefits system, benefits will be paid straight to you rather than to your landlord. You are then responsible for paying the rent for your home to us.
What benefits does Universal Credit replace?
Universal Credit replaces:
Jobseekers Allowance (Income based)
Employment and Support Allowance (Income based)
Working Tax Credit
Child Tax Credit
If you receive any of these benefits then you will need to reapply for Universal Credit when the Government contacts you.
What is different about Universal Credit?
You will need to apply for Universal Credit online. It will be paid in one lump sum, once a month in arrears, into a bank account to one person in the household.
It will also include your Housing Benefit. This means that you will be responsible for paying your rent to us every week.
When will this change happen?
Universal Credit is now live in all of the areas where we have properties. Initially this has been for new claims for Jobseekers Allowance from single people, but will be extended to couples and families.
Under full service the gateway conditions no longer apply and Universal Credit is available to all types of claimants, this means:
You will not be able to make a new claim for any of the above benefits unless you are of Pension Credit age. If you have a partner, then both of you will need to be of Pension Credit age in order to make a new claim for Housing Benefit, Income Support, etc. If you need to make a new claim for one of these benefits and you are not of Pension Credit age, then you will have to make a claim for Universal Credit instead.
You will need to have an online Universal Credit account to manage your claim. You can use your account to report changes, send messages to your work coach and find support.
If you are already claiming Universal Credit, you will be transferred to the full / digital service within three months of the digital go-live date for your area.
The Government has developed some guidelines about how many bedrooms people in social housing need in their homes. If you have too many bedrooms, your Housing Benefit will be reduced. Your rent will NOT be reduced, so if you are under-occupying, you need to think about how you will pay us the difference.
What is under-occupation?
The guidelines are that in a household:
A couple will be allowed a bedroom for themselves
A single person over the age of 16 will be allowed a bedroom for themselves
Two children under 10 will share a bedroom regardless of whether they are both boys or both girls
Two children over 10 but under 16 will share a bedroom if they are both boys or both girls
If you have one more bedroom than the guidelines say you need, your Housing Benefit will be cut by 14%.
If you have two more bedrooms than the guidelines say you need, your Housing Benefit will be cut by 25%.
When was the change introduced?
Bedroom tax was introduced in April 2013 for all social housing tenants. You could be affected at any point during your tenancy, depending on who is living with you, the size of your home and if you are still of working age.
Are there any exemptions?
The reduction in benefit will apply to everyone of working age. You are no longer classed as working age when you are eligible for Pension Credit. There are very few exemptions
Foster carers: The Government decided that foster carers will be allowed one extra room for foster children, as long as they have fostered a child or become an approved foster parent in the past 12 months.
Parents of children in the armed forces: If your teenage child lives at home but is away on operations with the armed forces you will not be charged the bedroom tax, as long as your child intends to continue living with you.
Shared custody of children: If you share custody of your children, their bedroom allocation will be at their main residence.
Disabled partner / child: An extra bedroom is currently only allowed for people who require an overnight carer.
You also won't be allowed to have a spare bedroom to use if you or your partner is recovering from an illness or operation.
I am under-occupying. What are my options?
If you are under-occupying please speak to us so that we can support you. You are responsible for making up the difference between your benefit payment and your rent, but we are here to help.
Give you budgeting advice if you decide to stay in your home and manage the shortfall yourself
Discuss other ways you could keep your benefit - like taking in a lodger or a boarder
To get help now with managing your finances or budgeting - Your income management officer is here to help with this. They can help you with payment plans and debt advice. Contact them through your area housing office.
To find out about downsizing - contact your neighbourhood housing officer through your area housing office
To set up a bank account - Your income management officer can give you information about Basic Bank accounts which are suitable for anyone - including people with a poor credit history. They can also help you set up a Direct Debit to pay your rent and other charges. Contact them through your area housing office.