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New Arrivals

Who can get universal credit (UC), housing benefit (HB) and council tax rebate (CTR)?

This page is for new arrivals. If you are a housing adviser please click here for information more relevant to you.

Universal credit: Important message about COVID-19

Changes have been made to universal credit and other benefits during the crisis. There is government guidance on the changes - it is updated regularly. Please check this first. Here are some extra points about the changes:

  • An EEA national who is self-employed or in paid employment when they get the virus keeps their self-employed/worker status while incapable of work. They should pass this test if self-employed and they claim benefits, or if they are working and receive statutory sick pay.
  • Those receiving universal credit and/or jobseeker’s allowance as a retained worker aren’t limited to six months benefit: they are treated as a worker for as long as they are incapable of work – for detailed advice see our advisers’ page on benefits.
  • If someone enters the UK while on a contributory sickness benefit from their home country, the home country is still responsible for paying it. But if someone starts work in the UK then the DWP is responsible – in some cases even if their earnings are below the national insurance threshold.

To get the latest on other changes to benefits, evictions, landlord documents checks, asylum support and many other issues, go to our coronavirus page which is being updated daily.

What is universal credit (UC)?

Universal credit is a new cash social security benefit for working-age people. It helps you with living expenses (including rent) if you have a low income. UC replaces all of the following ‘legacy benefits’ with a single monthly payment:

  • child tax credit
  • working tax credit
  • income support
  • income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • income-related employment and support allowance; and
  • if you are working age, housing benefit.

UC is administered by the DWP and (from 1 February 2019) you can no longer make a claim for any of these legacy benefits unless:

  1. you or you and your partner are pension age; or
  2. you live in temporary or supported accommodation provided by a social landlord; or
  3. you or you and your partner are severely disabled, make a claim before 27 January 2021 and meet certain other conditions (or you met those conditions within the previous month).

If the (1) above applies, you can still claim pension credit and/or HB; if (2) applies, UC for your general living expenses and HB for your rent; and if (3) applies you can continue to claim legacy benefits (including HB).

If you were already on legacy benefit before 1 February 2019 you can continue to receive it so long as you meet all the conditions for it. If one of your legacy benefits ends (e.g. if you become fit for work, start full-time work or your youngest child reaches age five) you can only replace your lost income by claiming universal credit – and when you do all your other legacy benefits end. Eventually all existing legacy benefits claims will be gradually transferred to universal credit, but this is not expected to start until January 2020 except in some pilot areas.

To qualify for universal credit you must:

  • make a valid claim;
  • sign a ‘claimant commitment’ and comply with any work-related requirements set out in it; and
  • be an eligible person.

The law on universal credit sets the rules about who is eligible according to whether you are British or Irish, a national of an EEA member state, or from outside the EEA.

What is housing benefit (HB)?

Housing benefit is a cash social security benefit to help you pay your rent if have a low income. To qualify for housing benefit you must make a valid claim and be an eligible person. The law on housing benefit sets out the rules about who is eligible according to whether you are British or Irish, a national of an EEA member state or from outside the EEA.

If you claim HB and receive any one of the DWP ‘passport’ benefits you receive the maximum help with your rent. The passport benefits are:

  • if you are pension age: state pension credit
  • if you are working age: income-related employment and support allowance, income support or income-based jobseeker’s allowance.

What is council tax rebate (CTR)?

All householders (whether owners or tenants) pay council tax to their local councils, based on the property value. The rules about who is eligible to get help towards paying their council tax through CTR are similar to the rules for UC/HB even though they are entirely separate schemes. Any differences to UC/HB are described as they arise.

In England your local council can set its own scheme rules about how your financial resources (income, capital) and needs are assessed, but in Wales the law sets out how your council must do this. In England and Wales your council can devise alternative rebates (in addition to main CTR) based on your membership of a group (a CTR ‘class’) whose members are generally financially disadvantaged, for example, your council tax is reduced by a fixed percentage if you have a severe disability. Your council must publish details of all the rebate classes in its scheme, and most do this online.

In England and Wales CTR law sets out who is eligible according to whether you are British or Irish, a national of an EEA member state, or from outside the EEA. But your council cannot set any further rules that would exclude you other than on financial grounds – such as a local residency qualification.

How much help will you get with your rent or council tax?

The maximum help you can get with your rent from UC/HB is:

  • your ‘eligible rent’, minus
  • any ‘non-dependant deductions’ that apply. These are the assumed contribution that other adults who live you make towards the rent (whether they do or not). In UC they are a flat rate amount. In HB they vary according to the income of the non-dependant person.

But the amount you get may be less than this if your income is above the figure the DWP/ your local council use as your basic living expenses. You automatically get the maximum help for UC if your only income is UC and/or child benefit, or for HB if you receive a passport benefit.

Your ‘eligible rent’ isn’t necessarily the same as the full rent you pay. If your landlord is a local council or a housing association your eligible rent is your full rent less:

  • any charges included in it for ineligible services. Typically, for heating, lighting, and water supplied to your home (other than the common parts). But also charges for meals, leisure items, laundry or personal care or support;
  • if you are working age, a further reduction of 14% or 25% if the DWP/council say you are under-occupying your home.

If you rent your home from a private landlord your eligible rent is based on the appropriate 'local housing allowance' figure that applies to you.

Making a claim for UC/HB/CTR

You must make a claim to qualify for UC/HB/CTR. To complete your claim, you must provide the DWP (for UC), or local authority (for HB/CTR), with your national insurance number and your partner’s if you are claiming UC/HB/CTR as a couple. If you do not have one you must have applied for one (which you do at the local Jobcentre Plus office) and for HB, provide the local authority with evidence that you have done this.

Rules about age

You are entitled to UC if:

  • you (if you are single) or you or your partner (if you are couple) are under state pension age; and
  • you (if you are single) or you and your partner (if you are a couple) are at least aged 18 years.

If you are a couple and only one of you meets these conditions, you may be able to claim UC as a single person. (If you are aged 16 or 17 you can also get UC if you meet certain other conditions, but you cannot get help with your housing costs.)

There are no upper or lower age-limits for HB or CTR except that:

  • if you are under state pension age you must claim UC instead of HB unless you meet one of the limited exceptions above;
  • you aren’t entitled to HB unless you have a legal liability for rent (which doesn’t normally occur until you have reached age 18);
  • you aren’t liable for council tax (therefore CTR) until you have reached age 18.

State pension age (‘pension age’) is gradually rising during 2019/20 from age 65 to age 66 for claims made on or after 6 October 2020. If you are aged 65 you can find out the exact date you reach state pension by using the Government calculator. You are ‘working age’ if you have not yet reached pension age.

Claiming UC if you are a member of a couple

If you are a member of a couple you usually claim UC jointly with your partner – and if you do you must both be eligible. But if only one of you is eligible (e.g. if your spouse is British and you have leave with a ‘no public funds’ condition) then that person can claim UC as a single person and if they do it does not affect your immigration status.

Claiming HB/CTR if you are a member of a couple

If you are a member of a couple you can only be excluded from HB/CTR if both you and your partner are ineligible (e.g. if both you and your partner have leave to remain with no recourse to public funds). If only one of you is ineligible then the other (eligible) member should make the claim. However, this does not mean that it is safe to do so in terms of your immigration status (since your partner’s awards counts as public funds). Your local authority may report you to the Home Office but is not obliged to do so.

If you have been granted leave following your application for asylum

If you have been granted refugee status, humanitarian protection or discretionary leave following your application for asylum, you are entitled to UC/HB/CTR from the date you receive the letter that confirms you have been granted leave (unless, unusually, your leave has a 'no public funds' condition).

If you are a British or Irish citizen or you have settled status

If you are a British Citizen, Irish Citizen, a citizen of a Commonwealth country with ‘right of abode’ in the UK or have been granted indefinite leave to remain (also known as ‘Settled Status’ - see below) you are entitled to:

  • UC/HB/CTR if you have made your home here (you are ‘habitually resident’)
  • UC/HB/CTR if you have been deported, expelled or removed from another country to the UK
  • HB if you have been awarded a DWP passport benefit; or
  • CTR if you have been awarded a DWP working age passport benefit.

EEA nationals and EEA family members

If you are an EEA national you are entitled to UC/HB/CTR if:

  • you have been granted Settled Status under the EU Settlement Scheme
  • you are in self-employment in the UK (including if you are self-employed but temporarily unable to work due to sickness)
  • you are an EEA worker
  • you are a former EEA worker who is temporarily unable to work (e.g. unemployed or off sick)
  • you are a EEA family member of any of the above
  • you have previously worked in the UK but have since retired
  • you are a long-term resident (including those granted Settled Status under the EU Settlement Scheme) and you are ‘habitually resident’; or
  • for HB/CTR if you or your partner receive a DWP passport benefit.

In any other case you are only entitled to UC/HB/CTR if you are habitually resident and you have some other right to reside (see other EEA nationals and EEA family members for details). 

All other people from outside the EEA

If you are a citizen of a country outside the EEA, you are not normally entitled to UC/HB unless:

  • you have made your home here (you are ‘habitually resident’); and
  • you have been granted leave from the Home Office and either
    • you are the separated partner of a British citizen or settled person who you are leaving due to domestic violence;
    • you are a national of North Macedonia or Turkey; or
    • your leave is not subject to a ‘no public funds condition’ nor was it granted as a result of a maintenance undertaking (sponsorship agreement);
    • it was granted as a result of a sponsorship agreement, but you have lived in the UK for five years;
    • it was granted as a result of a sponsorship agreement but your sponsor (or all of your sponsors if there was more than one) has since died; or
    • for HB only, you or your partner have been awarded a DWP passport benefit.

The first three of these six also apply to CTR, and you are also entitled to CTR if you receive a working age DWP passport benefit.

What you can do if the decision is wrong

The DWP/local authority will notify you of their decision, for HB this is usually done by sending you a letter/written notice, for UC it is usually a message to your online account. You have the right to request a review within one calendar month of the date the letter/message was sent. You make your request in the same way you made your claim (e.g. online, by telephone etc.). If you do this within the time limit the DWP/local authority must reconsider their decision. This is sometimes called an ‘any grounds review’ because you don’t have to give reason why you think the decision is wrong.

You can ask for an ‘anytime review’ (outside the time limit) if the DWP/local authority made an ‘official error’. An ‘official error’ means the DWP/local authority failed to take account of a fact you told them about, used the wrong bit of law to decide your claim, or the right bit of law but misunderstood what it means. For example, if you told them you have EU Settled Status and they overlooked this, or they took it into account, but decided you weren’t entitled. If the new decision doesn’t give you what you asked for you can ask for an ‘any grounds review’ as above.

In either case (any grounds or anytime) if your circumstances have changed since the original decision (e.g. you have been granted leave) you should also make a new claim to make sure you receive your maximum entitlement if your review/appeal fails.

If you are dissatisfied with a DWP/local authority decision, you can appeal to an independent tribunal instead but only if:

  • you tell the DWP/local authority that you want to ‘appeal to a tribunal’ within one month of the date they sent their notice to you; and
  • your letter sets out:
    • your name and address and those of your representative if you have one
    • the address you want any documents about your appeal to be sent to
    • the decision you want to appeal about and why you think it is wrong; and
  • for UC only, your appeal follows an ‘any grounds review’ (i.e. if your first request was for an anytime review, it must be followed by a further request for an any grounds review before you can appeal).

For HB disputes you can go straight to appeal, but it normally takes between three to eight months to get a hearing listed. If your appeal explains clearly why you think the decision is wrong the local authority can revise its decision (and if it is changed in your favour your appeal ends).

Chartered Institute of Housing

Background Topics

Chartered Institute of Housing