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Frequently asked questions
The benefits system is not always straightforward, so we've put together some frequently asked question to try and guide you through it.
How are benefits calculated?
Your benefit is calculated using legislation set out by central government.
In order to work out how much benefit you could receive we need to consider all of your household and financial circumstances, including the amount of rent and council tax you pay.
If we're able to provide you with help, it's important you keep us up to date by telling us straight away about any change in your circumstances.
You must tell us about all the income you and your family receives. Most income is taken fully into account, but some may be disregarded when calculating benefit entitlement.
Housing benefit and council tax support fully disregard:
- Attendance allowance
- Disability living allowance
- Personal independance payments
If you're working, housing benefit may also disregard:
- Earned income of £5 for a single person
- Earned income of £10 per week for a couple (one deduction, not a deduction for each member of the couple)
- Earned income of £20 per week for someone who is disabled
- Earned income of £25 per week for a lone parent
Please note that earned income isn't disregarded under the council tax support scheme.
Savings and investments
You must provide proof of all the capital you (and/or your partner) have. Capital can be any money you have in a bank/building society account, shares, savings bonds, property, or investments.
Find out more about the specific rules around capital and savings.
Size of your family
We use amounts set by central government to work out your household's financial needs. This is called an applicable amount or a "needs level'. This is made up of three parts:
- Personal allowances - an amount for you (and your partner)
- Dependants’ allowances - an amount for any children or qualifying young people you claim for
- Premiums - an extra amount because of disabilities, caring responsibilies, etc
Help with council tax
To work out whether you're eligible for council tax support, we'll look at:
- How much council tax you have to pay
- Your income and savings
- A comparison of your income and savings against your applicable amount
Help with rent
To work out whether you're eligible for housing benefit, we'll look at:
- How much rent you have to pay
- Your eligible rent (if you're assessed under the old housing benefit rules)
- Your local housing allowance rate (if you're assessed under the local housing allowance rules)
- The amount of bedrooms you need, and have in your property (if you live in social sector housing)
- Your income and savings
- A comparison of your income and savings against your applicable amount
If any non-dependants live with you
A non-dependant is someone aged 18 years or over who lives with you. For example:
- An adult son or daughter
- An elderly relative
For most non-dependants living in your home, we may reduce your housing benefit and council tax support by a certain amount depending on their income and circumstances. This is known as a 'non-dependant deduction'.
What could affect my benefit payments?
There are a number of factors that impact on benefit provision, so it's important that you familiarise yourself with this information.
Use the links below to find out more about what could affect your benefits:
Where can I get help with debt and budgeting?
The Citizens Advice Beureux have some really useful information at adviceguide.org.uk
You could also try the Money Advice Service for helpful information and tips.
Stepchange is a helpful website for more useful information on how to tackle debt.
What's universal credit and where can I find out more about it?
Universal credit is a new benefit being brought in by the Department for Work & Pensions which will eventually take the place of the income based (means tested) parts of jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance. It will replace income support, housing benefit and the child and working tax credits.
Where can I find out more about changes to the benefit system?
Over the last few years the benefits, tax credits and welfare support system has gone through extensive changes. Many of these changes have already been implemented and are having an effect on the people of Shropshire, but more changes are due to be introduced. On this page we've highlighted how these changes affect housing benefit and council tax. There may be other changes which could affect you and your household, so for more comprehensive information on other benefits and credits visit the government’s website.
Under-occupation is sometimes referred to in the press as the “spare-room subsidy” or “bedroom tax”, and came into force in April 2013. Under-occupation currently applies to people renting from a social-sector housing provider, ie the local authority, a registered housing association, another registered provider or social housing.
The amount of benefit you can receive may be restricted if you're considered to have more bedrooms than you need for the people living in your household.
The benefit cap
From 12 August 2013 the government introduced a cap on the total amount of benefit that people aged 16-64 could get. The aim of the “benefit cap” is to prevent people from getting more income from benefit payments than the average wage (after tax and national insurance). The initial benefit cap levels for Shropshire were:
- £350 per week for single adults with no children
- £500 per week for couples (with or without dependent children) and single parents
From autumn 2016 the planned levels are reduced to:
- £258 per week for single adults with no children
- £296 per week for couples (with or without dependent children) and single parents
As yet, the government has not published the exact date on which this further reduction will be introduced.
How does the benefit cap work?
All the benefits and credits your household receives are added together. This includes anything paid to you, your partner and any children (or qualifying young people) you claim for (it doesn't include anything received by non-dependants living in your home). If your total household income is higher than the level of the cap the amount of benefit you receive is reduced. The reduction is taken from housing benefit in the first instance. Further reductions will be made from other benefits until your total income no longer exceeds the level of the cap.
Does the benefit cap affect everyone?
Some households are exempt from the cap if they are receiving:
- War widows or war widowers pension
- Disability living allowance
- Personal independence payment
- Attendance allowance
- Constant attendance allowance
- The support component of employment and support allowance
- Working tax credit
- Industrial injuries benefit
- Armed forces compensation scheme
- Armed forces independence payment
The exemption category must be relevant to a member of the household, and not a non-dependant. There's a 39-week grace period before the cap is applied for those who have been in continuous employment for the previous 12 months, and who lose their job through no fault of their own.
Council tax support
From April 2013, council tax help for people on low income changed, as council tax benefit was abolished and replaced with a council tax reduction scheme. Previously, any council tax benefit awarded by councils was reimbursed in full by the government. From April 2013 this was reduced to 90%, and councils had to find the remaining 10% by restricting the amount of help available.
Unlike council tax benefit, which followed the same national rules and regulations which apply to housing benefit, the new scheme required councils to set their own rules.
Universal credit is a new benefit. Unlike the current system where people may receive many different benefit payments, universal credit is made up of one monthly payment. Most people who receive universal credit won't get any housing benefit; instead, any help with housing costs will be paid as part of the monthly universal credit payment.
Council tax support won't be paid as part of universal credit. If you're not already in receipt of council tax support when you make your claim to universal credit, you'll need to make a separate application.
Working-age living cost and benefit rates
Each year the government publishes figures representing how much money they believe people should have as a minimum level of income necessary to meet their basic and essential living costs. You may have seen these figures referred to elsewhere as an applicable amount, appropriate amount or needs level.
These figures are applied from the first week in April each year and are referred to as uprating.
Normally these figures increase by the cost of living. However, for working-age people the government has decided not to review and increase these figures again until 2021 at the earliest.
People who have reached their state pension age will continue to receive an annual increase.
The amount that housing benefit can pay towards rent for private tenancies won't be increased again until 2020 at the earliest. The rates should remain at the levels set in 2015, but could be reduced if the average rent in the area is lower.
The government is reducing the amount of rent charged by social-sector landlords by 1% each year between April 2016 and 2020. In addition, from April 2018 social-sector tenants will be subject to the same restrictions currently placed on private tenants. This will include the maximum amount of housing benefit payable to single people under the age of 35 being limited to a shared-room rate. These restrictions will only apply to any tenancy agreement signed after 1 April 2016.
Housing benefit backdating
From April 2016 new claims for housing benefit made by people of working age will only be able to be backdated for a maximum of one month (this was previously a maximum of six months). New claims for housing benefit made by people who have reached their state pension age can still be considered for backdating for a maximum of three months. More information about applying for backdating as part a new claim is available on our website.
Temporary absences from UK
Removal of the family premium
The family premium currently forms part of the housing benefit and council tax support assessment for any household claiming for dependant children and/or dependant young people. For housing benefit, from 1 May 2016 the family premium will not be awarded as part of any new claim or added to an existing award following the birth of a child.
Existing awards of housing benefit which already have a family premium included will remain unaffected for the time being. However, any break in a claim will result in the family premium being withdrawn. Also, for the time being, the family premium will continue to form part of the assessment for council tax support, claimed by working age customers. This is currently under review.
From 6 April 2017 the government is introducing a change to child tax credits and housing benefit. New claims to housing benefit may be limited to include a maximum of two personal allowances for children or dependant young people.
Child tax credits will be responsible for determining how many children or dependant young people will be included in the claim. Claims already in payment before 1 April 2017 will not be immediately affected, however:
- Any subsequent children may not be included in the assessment if the maximum of two children has been reached
- Following a break in entitlement, any new claim will be affected by the new rules
Find out more about tax credits and how your claim may be affected.
New state pension
From April 2016 the new state pension is being introduced. This will gradually replace the existing state retirement pension and guaranteed pension credit (at the basic rate). Pension credit savings credit is being abolished.
Unlike guaranteed pension credit the new state pension doesn't give a passported (automatic entitlement) right to housing benefit and council tax support. This means people will need to provide more documents in order to verify their details than they would previously if they'd been in receipt of pension credit.
For more information regarding the new state pension visit the government’s website.
Citizens Advice website
CAB's website gives detailed information on many benefits and explains how they work, as well as providing useful fact sheets and tools you can use.
Citizen’s Advice regularly updates their site to include information about what's changing.
Turn 2 Us
Turn 2 Us looks at what you might be entitled to depending on your circumstances, as well as keeping up to date with changes to the benefits system.
Can I get support from my landlord?
If you rent your home from a registered social landlord they may be able to support you if you're affected by changes to benefits. Select your landlord from the list below:
Can I claim backdated payments?
Entitlement to housing benefit and council tax support is normally awarded from the Monday after we receive your claim form. However, in certain circumstances, it may be possible to award benefit from an earlier date. This is known as 'backdated' benefit.
The maximum length of time that backdated benefit can be awarded is:
- One month for working age customers
- Three months for pension credit-age customers
To check whether you've reached pension credit age use the Pension Age calculator website.
Couples: if one person has reached pension credit age
If you're claiming benefit as a couple, and either you or your partner has reached pension credit age, but the other person is still working age, then how we treat your claim depends on what other benefits you receive.
- If you or your partner are in receipt of income support or jobseekers allowance (income-based), or employment and support allowance (income-related), we can backdate for up to six months
- If you or your partner are NOT in receipt of income support or jobseekers allowance (income-based), or employment and support allowance (income-related), we can only backdate for up to three months
How do I make a claim for backdated benefit?
If you want to make a request for backdated benefit, you'll need to tell us why you want the claim to be backdated. We also need to know the date to which you want it backdated, and why you didn't claim earlier. You'll also need to show 'good cause' as to why you didn't claim benefit from the earlier date.
Some examples of 'good cause' could include things such as:
- You were unable to make a claim due to poor health and had no one who could help or make a claim on your behalf
- You couldn't reasonably have been expected to have known your rights - for example, where there have been changes in the law
- You were wrongly advised by someone at the council or a Department for Work and Pensions office that you wouldn't be entitled to housing benefit and/or council tax support
- You're unable to manage your affairs and don't have a representative who deals with them
- You've become liable for council tax for a past period.
You must be able to show that 'good cause' was present for the whole period for which you're requesting the backdated benefit to be awarded.
How do I appeal a benefit decision?
If you're not happy with a decision, you can appeal it.
Find out more about how to appeal a council tax support or housing benefit decision.
Local support and prevention fund and discretionary housing payment decisions do not follow the same procedure. Please contact the team for more information.