How to deal with benefits and claims
Updated: 28 Feb 2017
What is Housing Benefit?
Housing Benefit is a Social Security benefit administered by NIHE on behalf of the Social Security Agency. A tenant on a low income or receiving benefits can apply for Housing Benefit to help meet their housing costs (rent and rates charges).
If you are the landlord of Hostel accommodation the relevant Housing Benefit application form can be found here ( 128 KB)
Restrictions on Information provided in a Housing Benefit claim
It is the tenant who makes the claim for Housing Benefit. Data Protection rules limit the information that NIHE can share with a landlord in relation to a tenant's Housing Benefit claim.
We are allowed to advise you for example that we have received a claim from a particular person and what stage the claim is at. We cannot give you any personal information in relation to the claimant’s circumstances.
How much Housing Benefit will be paid?
In some cases it may not be possible to meet all of the tenant’s rent and rates charges through the Housing Benefit scheme.
There are 3 factors that impact on an award of Housing Benefit that a landlord needs to be aware of:
- The amount of rent that a landlord is charging for their property: If the amount a landlord charges for rent is higher than the amount NIHE can pay (set by law) then any possible award of Housing Benefit could be reduced. (See section below on LHA)
- The claimant’s personal circumstances: NIHE must look at the claimant’s financial circumstances (earnings, benefits, capital etc.) and if their income is too high, any award of Housing Benefit will be reduced. Similarly if the claimant has a financially independent person aged 18 or over living with them (a non-dependant) this may also result in a reduction in their Housing Benefit award.
- Outstanding Overpayments: NIHE will recover any outstanding overpayments your tenant is responsible for in relation to a previous claim(s). This would reduce the amount of Housing Benefit that is actually paid. The tenant will be required to make up this shortfall.
Local Housing Allowance scheme (Introduced from 07/04/2008)
When a person rents a property from a Private Landlord and makes a claim for Housing Benefit, NIHE uses the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rent assessment rules to decide how much of the person’s rent charge will be taken into account when their claim is calculated.
Under the terms of the LHA rent scheme NIHE has divided Northern Ireland into 8 Broad Rental Market Areas grouped by postcode. An acceptable rent level has then determined within each of those 8 areas.
The rental level within each Broad Rental Market Area will vary depending on the size of the property (the number of bedrooms).
The rental level for each Broad Rental Market Area is recalculated in January of each year and would apply from the following April of the same year.
When a person renting from a private landlord applies for Housing Benefit,
- NIHE will calculate the number of bedrooms the person requires using the LHA rules and
- refer to the postcode for that property to determine the rental level that will be used to calculate any award of Housing Benefit.
The LHA process is set out in law in the Housing Benefit Regulations for Northern Ireland.
Publishing the LHA rates allows people who are thinking about moving to privately rented accommodation to know in advance what rent level their Housing Benefit calculation would be based on. This helps tenants choose accommodation they can afford.
Shared Accommodation rate (where tenant is single and aged less than 35)
The Local Housing Allowance scheme limits the amount of rent to be used in a housing benefit calculation for a single person who is aged under 35.
This means that the LHA rental level is based on a ‘room in a shared house’ letting even where the tenant has sole access to self -contained accommodation within the terms of their tenancy.
A significantly lower rental level is used to calculate any Housing Benefit award for a single person aged under 35.
(If a tenant only has access to a room in a shared house this is not a problem)
There are some exceptions to the “under 35” rule.
For example a person is not treated as a ‘young individual’ if
- They are responsible for a child for whom they claim child benefit
- They have a non- dependant living with them
- They are entitled to DLA care at the middle or high rate
It is recommended that where a tenant is single and aged under 35 and you are thinking of renting a self-contained property to them, you should ask the tenant to contact NIHE to discuss the effects of the “single under 35 rule” before they agree to take on the tenancy.
Housing Benefit payments
A claimant can choose if they want their Housing Benefit paid directly to themselves or to their landlord.
- Where Housing Benefit is paid to the tenant it is paid 2 weeks in arrears.
- Where Housing Benefit is paid to the landlord it is paid 4 weeks in arrears.
When will Housing Benefit be paid directly to a landlord?
Under the current legislation payments can be made directly to the landlord where:
- the claimant has rent arrears of 6 weeks or more (except where we consider it to be in the overriding interest of the claimant not to make direct payments); or
- an amount of Income Support/JSA (IB) payable to the claimant/partner is being paid direct to the landlord to meet rent arrears, or
- the claimant requests or consents to such an arrangement; or
- we consider it to be in the interest of the claimant; or
- benefit is owing to a claimant who has left a dwelling with rent arrears (the amount paid is limited to the amount of arrears).
Where payment is made directly to the landlord we issue a written notification of the details of the arrangement.
Landlord Payment Schedule Notifications by secure email
There is an option for landlords to receive their notification by secure email.
Landlords who receive Housing Benefit payments directly on behalf of their tenants can opt to receive their Payment Schedule Notifications by secure email, replacing the current paper format. The benefits of the scheme are two-fold, it is hoped this will provide a quicker and more efficient service for landlords and it should help counteract lost or undelivered schedules.
The scheme will require any private landlord who wishes to be included, to print, complete & sign the authorisation form (see link below) and post it to the Housing Executive address at top of the form. Once we receive it and the email address is confirmed, a PIN number will be issued by post to the landlord. After this, all future payment schedules will be issued to the email account.
- Download the Landlord secure email registration form ( 60 KB)
Change of Payment Details
If you want to change the bank details the Housing Benefit is paid into, please complete and return the change of payment details to the Housing Benefit office dealing with your payments.
How a landlord can help with new claims
Processing claims promptly can do much to prevent tenants falling into arrears at the start of the tenancy.
To speed up the processing of new claims, you should:
- ensure the tenant has completed a Housing Benefit application form and returned it to the relevant Housing Executive office before the start of the tenancy
- ensure that the Certificate of Occupation is completed and returned to NIHE
Information and evidence required
In addition to the information and evidence that your tenant must provide, a private landlord must complete a Certificate of Occupation (contained in your tenant's Housing Benefit claim form) giving details about the tenancy.
Your tenant may also be asked to provide proof of tenancy, the statement of tenancy terms, tenancy agreement or rent book. It may be necessary for some claimants to be visited before their claim is processed and if a successful home visit cannot be carried out then this can delay the processing of the claim.
You may find the following documents useful if you are a private landlord that is considering renting a property to a tenant
- Download a sample Tenancy agreement ( 222 KB)
- Download a sample Rent book ( 89 KB)
- Download a sample Statement of tenancy terms ( 54 KB)
Landlord Registration Scheme
On the 25th February 2015, the Landlord Registration Scheme became effective. All landlords letting a private property in Northern Ireland must register before the letting of a new tenancy. Where there is an existing tenancy, a landlord must register within 12 months from the commencement of the Registration Scheme. As a landlord you must provide accurate up-to-date information about yourself and your properties.
If you do not register you may be committing an offence and may be issued with a penalty of up to £2,500.
Please click here for further information.