Housing benefit is now merged into Universal Credit for working age people, but it is still available to people over state pension age and those living in certain kinds of accommodation.

It is intended to support renters who are on a low income, and does not cover homeowners – though depending on their circumstances, they may qualify for a loan to help with mortgage interest payments.

We run down the housing benefit rules and how to apply, and some valuable sources of help if you are struggling to afford a roof over your head.

Housing benefit: It is intended to support renters who are on a low income, and does not cover homeowners© Provided by This Is Money

Are you eligible for housing benefit

If you are aged under 66 and making a new application for help with housing costs, you will normally have to claim UC instead – read our guide to Universal Credit here.

The exceptions to this are if you’re living in supported or sheltered accommodation, or a refuge for survivors of domestic abuse, or temporary housing arranged by your local council.However, if you have a partner they must also be over state pension age, or you must already have been claiming pension credit as a couple before 15 May 2019, or you must be living in the kind of accommodation cited above.

There is a list of circumstances that can bar a housing benefit claim, including having savings over £16,000 – unless you receive the guarantee credit element of pension credit – or living in the home of a close relative.

If you are in doubt, the Government suggests you use one of the free and anonymous benefits calculators listed here, or check with a local benefits adviser.

If you are a homeowner and want to apply for a loan to pay mortgage interest, the Government-backed website MoneyHelper has information about the Support for Mortgage Interest scheme here.

If you live in Scotland, you can find out about housing benefit here, and if you are in Northern Ireland go here.

How much is housing benefit worth and what does it cover?

There is a host of factors that determines how much you receive, and whether you get part or all of your rent covered if you qualify.

As there is no set amount, the free benefit calculators linked to here might help narrow it down for you.

There are separate rules for private renters and those who live in council or social housing.

But in both cases, the amount is affected by your household income – including benefits, pensions and savings – if it is over £6,000.

The bedroom tax reduces how much you can get if you’re living in council or social housing.

Household size and how many bedrooms you are eligible for are also included in the calculation for private renters.

In the private sector, where you live and what rent is typically charged in your area will play a major role in what you will get.

This is Money’s pensions columnist, Steve Webb, explained how this works to a reader who faced a huge rent hike that outstripped her housing benefit.

‘As a private renter, your housing benefit is not based on your actual rent. Instead it is based on something called your local housing allowance,’ he said.

The LHA is usually set to match or exceed the rent level of the cheapest 30 per cent of rented properties in your area, he went on. You can find out the LHA in your area here.

Although this level has been squeezed or frozen at various times in recent years, from April this year it was re-set to once again cover the bottom 30 per cent of rent levels in each local area.

Webb said: ‘The political justification given for imposing the 30 per cent threshold is that people on benefit should not be able to choose the nicest properties in an area and get their rent covered in full by the taxpayer.

‘Instead, the taxpayer will only pay up to the rent on a relatively modest property, regardless of your actual rent.’

He added: ‘Where people are really struggling and perhaps have some particular or exceptional need, they can apply to their local authority for what are called “discretionary housing payments”.’

The Government has more here on discretionary housing payments, who can claim them and how to apply.

Housing benefit may be limited by the benefit cap, which is applied to people between 16 and state pension age.

How to apply for housing benefit

There are two ways to apply. The first is through your local council – you can use this postcode checker, which takes you direct to the housing benefit section of your council’s website.

The second is via an application for pension credit, which top ups up the income of older people to a minimum of £218.15 for single people and £332.95 for couples.

If you already claim pension credit, contact the Pension Service to find out more. Read our guide to claiming pension credit here.

You can claim in advance, for example if you’re moving, although you probably won’t get any money before you move, and you might also be able to backdate a claim.

Age UK recently carried out a ‘mystery shopper’ exercise to find out how helpful local councils are when people either cannot or do not want to claim housing benefit online.

The charity warns there is a postcode lottery if you do not use computers and ring up for help. You might therefore have to be persistent, or contact one of the organisations linked to below – which include Age UK itself – to assist you.

The Government says you will have to provide information and evidence to support your claim, and has a list of what you will need to know or might be asked for during the housing benefit application process.

 Any change of circumstances has to be reported, and there is a rundown of common examples here.

If you’re a council tenant, housing benefit will be paid direct into your rent account and if you’re a private or housing association tenant it will usually go into your bank or building society account.

Can you challenge a decision

The Government explains the basics of appealing a housing benefit decision here.

You can challenge a local council to review a decision or appeal against it at a tribunal.

Regarding help and advice with appeals, Citizens Advice has information here, and Shelter here.

You might also want to consult a solicitor. The Law Society has a tool to find a solicitor here, which lets you search via legal issue – ‘social welfare, health and benefits’ is one of the options – and where you live.

Where can you get help with a claim?

Gov.uk has a general guide on what you need to know about housing benefit.

The following organisations have more information, and some have staff who will assist with claims, or will help if you run into problems or want to appeal a decision.

Age UK

Citizens Advice

Turn2us

Shelter

Emergency help: Shelter has a helpline on 0808 800 4444 which is open weekdays between 8am and 6pm if you are are homeless, have nowhere to stay tonight, are worried about losing your home in the next two months, or are at risk of harm or abuse.

The number and link above is for England, but there are details of Shelter in Wales here and Scotland here.