Important changes & welfare reform

Important changes & welfare reform

This page provides information on important changes that could affect your housing benefits.

Housing benefit - important changes which may affect you

Here we will give updates on any changes to the law which could affect your housing benefits. We will also provide local information, for your convenience:

Important Notice regarding Housing Benefit Payment 

During the Christmas period, the date you receive your Housing Benefit payment may change.  
The following schedule shows when payments will be received into customers’ accounts. Changes have been underlined.

Date payment received in customer accounts
NORMAL DATE REVISED DATE
Monday 25 December 2017 Wednesday 27 December 2017
Monday 1 January 2018 Tuesday 2 January 2018

Any customers paid by cheque will have their cheques posted out earlier and should hopefully be received by the due date, although this will be dependent on Royal Mail deliveries.

If you have any queries regarding your Housing Benefit payments please telephone 0345 600 6400 or
E-mail: benefits@northumberland.gov.uk

Housing Benefit April 2017 Changes

This page provides information on important changes to housing benefit with effect from 1 April 2017

Do you or your partner have a carer who stays overnight in your home to help care for a disabled child or another adult who lives with you who is disabled?
  • Is the overnight care provided by a carer who doesn’t live in your home?
  • Do you actually have a spare bedroom that your carer uses overnight?
If the answer to all these questions is yes, then from 1 April 2017 the help you get with your rent may be able to take account of this.

From April 2017, a bedroom that is used by a carer (or team of carers) who doesn’t actually live in your home but provides overnight care for either a disabled child or a disabled adult who lives with you, can be taken into account when working out how much Housing Benefit to pay.

In some cases, this could result in an increase in Housing Benefit, however all your circumstances would need to be considered to decide whether you can get more money. This will include whether the child or adult who lives with you are entitled to certain disability benefits.  
 
Are you or your partner unable to share a bedroom because of a disability?
  • Do you and your partner sleep in separate bedrooms because of this?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then from 1 April 2017 the help you get with your rent may be able to take account of this.

From April 2017, an extra bedroom can be taken into account when working out how much Housing Benefit to pay, if a couple are unable to share a bedroom because of a disability. Your local authority must also be satisfied that you and your partner cannot reasonably share a bedroom due to your disability and that a spare bedroom is available in the household for that use.

In some cases, this could result in an increase in Housing Benefit, however all your circumstances would need to be considered to decide whether you can get more money. This will include whether you or your partner are entitled to certain disability benefits as follows:
  • the middle or higher rate care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
  • higher rate Attendance Allowance (AA)
  • the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
  • Armed Forces Independent Payment (AFIP)

Even if your Housing Benefit doesn’t increase as a result, it is still in your interest to tell us if you have these care arrangements for any children/non-dependant adults who lives with you or you and your partner are unable to share a bedroom because of a disability.
 
Where can I get further information or help?
If you think that you might be entitled to help with the cost of an additional bedroom that is used by a carer (or team of carers) or you are unable to share a bedroom with your partner please contact us :

Welfare reform

The government has made big changes to the benefits system as part of the Welfare Reform Act. A summary of these changes is given below.

Removal of spare room subsidy – bedroom tax
On 1 April 2013, the government introduced size limit rules into housing benefit for working age people renting from a local authority and registered providers of social housing, housing associations or social landlords. Working age includes anyone who is under the age of state pension credit age. State pension can be calculated using the state pension age calculator.

The new rules restrict the size of accommodation housing benefit can be received for, based on the number of people within a household.

The following are expected to share:
  • an adult couple
  • two children under 16 of the same gender
  • two children under 10, regardless of gender
The following can have their own bedroom:
  • a single adult (16 or over)
  • a child that would normally share, but shared rooms are taken
  • children who can’t share because of disabilities or medical conditions
  • a non-resident overnight carer for you or your partner (but only if they must stay overnight)
One spare bedroom is allowed for:
  • an approved foster carer between placements, up to 52 weeks from the end of previous placement
  • a newly approved foster carer, up to 52 weeks from date of approval if no child is placed with them during
Rooms used by students or members of the armed/reserved forces will not be counted as spare if they intend to return home.

Those parents who don’t live together, but have shared care of children are not exempt, unless they are the provider of their main home, receive child benefit, or are treated as their responsible.

How could you be affected?
If you are assessed under these rules as having more bedrooms than necessary for your household, you will be considered to be under-occupying that property.

If you are under-occupying there will be a reduction in housing benefit.

The amount allowed for rent and any service charges will be reduced by 14% for under-occupancy of one bedroom, or 25% for under-occupancy by two bedrooms or more.

These changes should be considered before renewing, or signing a new tenancy agreement, but you may be able to get a discretionary housing payment to make up for some, or all of the reduction.
Benefit cap
As part of the Government's Welfare Reform changes the total amount of benefit that can be received is a set amount for both single people and couples. This is called the benefit cap.

The benefit cap was brought in to make sure that no family received more in benefits than the average working household. The cap is currently £500 per week for couples and lone parents and £350 per week for single adults.

From November 2016 the cap amount will drop even further to:-  
£384.62 a week if you are a couple or have children
£257.69 a week if you are a single person

In Northumberland if your Housing Benefit is already capped the increased capped amount will apply from 7 November 2016. 

If this is the first time your Housing Benefit is capped the cap will apply from 12 December 2016.

Which benefits are included in the benefit cap?
Jobseeker's Allowance
Employment Support Allowance (except where the support component has been awarded)
Housing Benefit
Child Benefit
Child Tax Credit
Carers Allowance
Bereavement Allowance
Widowed Parents Allowance/Widow’s Pension/Widowed Mother’s Allowance
Incapacity Benefit
Income Support
Maternity Allowance
Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA)

Which benefits are not included in the benefit cap?
If you or a member of your household are receiving one of the benefits below then the benefit cap will not apply to you:
Working Tax Credits (a claim for Working Tax Credits must be made)
Disability Living Allowance / PIP
War Pensions Scheme Payments (including War Widow’s/Widower’s pension and War Disablement Pension)
Employment Support Allowance (only if paid with the support component)
Attendance allowance
Armed Forces compensation scheme payments/independence payments
Industrial Injuries Benefits
Carers Allowance (this income only applies from Nov 16 when the new benefit cap amount is introduced)
Guardians Allowance (this income only applies from Autumn Nov 16 when the new benefit cap amount is introduced)

Which benefits will be reduced if I am affected by the benefit cap?
If you receive Housing Benefit this will be reduced by the amount you are over the cap. If your Housing Benefit entitlement is reduced due to the cap amount, you will receive at least 50p of your Housing Benefit entitlement.
If you receive Universal Credit your entitlement will be reduced by the amount that you are over the cap.
How can I find out if I'm going to be affected by the benefit cap?
The DWP has put together a benefit cap calculator you can use that can tell you if you will be affected or not. It's really easy to use and can be completed in five minutes.

What can I do?
If you are affected by the benefit cap we may be able to help you in the short term. You may be able to apply for a discretionary housing payment.  Please contact us on 0345 600 6400.

If you think the cap should not apply because you, your partner or any children you are responsible for when working out your housing benefit, receive one or more of the above benefits you can report this to the benefit cap helpline. The helpline number is 0345 605 7064 or textphone 0345 608 8551 for people with hearing or speech impairments. The helpline is open Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm.

Finding work could mean that the benefit cap won’t apply to you if you are able to get Working Tax Credit. You can find out more about Working Tax Credit at www.gov.uk/working-tax-credit, including how many hours you need to work to get it.

For help in preparing and looking for work contact the helpline number on 0345 605 7064 to make an appointment to see a work coach.

You can also find help online at https://www.gov.uk/moving-from-benefits-to-work/overview
Personal independence payment
The disability living allowance has been replaced as the main non-means-tested benefit for working age people with a long-term health condition or disability, affecting their daily living or mobility.

The personal independence payment has a daily living component and a mobility component. Each component has two rates: standard and enhanced.

People can get both components if they satisfy the conditions and will need to satisfy the disability conditions for three months before the claim and be expected to continue this for nine months afterwards – unless they are terminally ill and claiming under special rules.

The daily living component will be paid at the same rates as high and middle rate disability living allowance care component, but there will be no equivalent to the low rate care. The criteria are different.

Therefore, it can’t be assumed that those on high or middle disability living allowance care will all transfer to the equivalent new rates, just as it can’t be assumed everyone on current low rate disability living allowance will not qualify for personal independence payments.

Entitlement is assessed by considering 12 activities. Points are awarded depending on how well people can carry out each of the activities. Personal independence payment claims contact number: 0800 917 2222
Jobcentre Plus claimant commitment information
The government states that through reforms it is seeking to speed up entry into employment from benefits for those able to work.

These will include certain conditions for people returning to work, or taking up training opportunities. 
Changes to Family Premium
The family premium will no longer be included in the Housing Benefit applicable amount for new entitlements for Housing Benefit from 1 May 2016 and for existing customers who have a child or become responsible for a child or young person for the first time after the 30 April 2016.
 
For existing customers who are no longer responsible for a child or young person, the family premium can no longer be awarded. If responsibility for a child or young is regained after the 30 April 2016, the premium will not be included when calculating your Housing Benefit entitlement.

For existing customers who receive Housing Benefit, the family premium will no longer be included within your calculation if there is a break in your entitlement for more than one week.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a new government means tested benefit that provides help to working age people who are on a low income or out of work.

Who will it affect?
Universal Credit is being rolled out in Northumberland from 22 February 2016. Initially, this will affect only new claims from single people without children and without mortgage costs who would previously have claimed income based Jobseeker's Allowance. If you're already claiming benefits, you don't need to do anything. You will be advised when any changes will affect you.
What benefits will Universal Credit replace?
Universal Credit will replace the following benefits and tax credits with one monthly payment: 
  • Income based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Income based Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support 
Once you have claimed Universal Credit, any benefits that it replaces will stop and you will start getting Universal Credit instead.
 
Universal Credit is paid to both people in and out of work. There are no limits to the number of hours you can work a week to receive the benefit.
What is different about Universal Credit?
  • Universal credit will be paid directly into your bank account
  • You’ll get one monthly payment for your whole household
  • Any help you get with your rent will be included in your payment
  • You’ll have to pay your landlord yourself
  • Most people will claim universal credit online
Universal Credit and Council Tax Support
Universal credit will not replace council tax support.  Universal credit claimants will still need to make a claim for council tax support to Northumberland County Council. 

Telephone 0345 600 6400 for further information
How can I prepare for Universal Credit?
Get the right bank account 
  • Universal credit will be paid calendar monthly in arrears into your bank, building society or credit union account.  You will have to make sure that your account can receive automated payments and it will help if the account allows for standing orders to be set up
  • You may want to set up Direct Debits or standing orders for bills like your rent, gas and electricity
  • If you and your partner are both eligible for universal credit you’ll get a single payment for both of you.  You may want to decide which account to have it paid into or whether you need a joint account
  • Split payments can be requested, such as part of the payment to a partner, more regular payments or housing costs paid to a landlord - these are called Alternative Payment Arrangements (APA).  Claimants will need to talk to their Work Coach for this to be put in place, and they will need to take up the help offered to them to manage their payments longer term


Draw up a budget 
  • If you’re used to having your rent paid directly to your landlord you’ll soon be responsible for paying it yourself.  You will need to keep it separate from your general spending money
  • Universal credit will be paid monthly, so if you’re used to working out your spending weekly or fortnightly, you’ll have to start managing your money across the whole month
  • If you get into difficulties with budgeting, personal budgeting support can be provided.  You will need to talk to your Work Coach to arrange this


Get online 
How long will I have to wait for my first payment?
It can take several weeks after you make your claim to get your first universal credit payment.  After that you should receive your payment every calendar month.
What if I can't manage whilst I wait for my first universal credit payment?
You can ask your Jobcentre for a short-term benefit advance if you’re in financial need and either:
  • you’ve made a new claim for benefit and you’re waiting for your first payment
  • you’ve had a significant change in your circumstances that means your benefit will go up by a large amount and you can’t wait until the next payment.
If you are awarded an advance payment of your benefit you will normally pay it back out of your future payments.
 
To get advice on advance payments contact the Universal Credit Service Centre on 0345 600 0723
 
Don’t be tempted to take out expensive credit like payday loans they may only make your situation worse
Where can I get help applying for Universal Credit?
You may wish to visit one of the following customer information points for further help:
 
  Alnwick   Greenwell Lane, Ashington, NE66 1HB
  Ashington   Wansbeck Square, Ashington, NE63 9XL
  Bedlington   Library, Glebe Road, Bedlington, NE22 6JX
  Berwick   Walkergate Building, Walkergate, Berwick-upon-Tweed, TD15 1DJ
  Blyth   Blyth Library, Bridge Street, Blyth, NE24 1DJ
  Cramlington   Concordia, Cramlington, NE23 6YB
  Hexham   Hadrian House, Market  Street, Hexham, NE46 3NH
  Prudhoe   1st Floor, Spetchells Centre, 58 Front Street, Prudhoe, NE42 5AA
Further information
For further information you may wish to download the Universal Credit factsheet. It explains in more detail who will be able to claim, what you could do to prepare for Universal Credit and how you will be paid.

You may also wish to visit www.gov.uk