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How to make a claim for universal credit, housing benefit and council tax rebate

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

Universal credit (UC)

If you (or your partner if you have one) are working age you must claim universal credit (UC) to get help with your rent (unless one of the limited exceptions applies). You make a claim for universal credit from the DWP. If you are a couple, you make a joint claim. You claim universal credit online. You can call the DWP helpline if you need help to make your claim: 0800 328 5644 or you can use the impartial ‘help to claim’ service run by Citizens Advice in England and Wales, or in Scotland by Citizens Advice Scotland.

After you have lodged your claim you will be asked to attend an interview at your local Jobcentre Plus office where you will be asked to sign a claimant commitment that sets out what you will do to find, or get ready for, work. You will also be asked to provide any evidence and information that is needed to complete you claim.

Transferring from housing benefit to universal credit

If you are under pension age and you were awarded housing benefit (HB) before UC ‘full service’ started in your area (on or before 12th December 2018) your HB award continues until either:

  • your circumstances change and you are no longer entitled to it (e.g. income or capital increase);
  • you move outside your local authority area; or
  • you claim UC because one of your legacy benefits ends due to a change of circumstances.

Whenever you claim UC because one of your legacy benefits has ended this automatically ends all your other legacy benefits (including your HB) and you cannot claim them again unless one of the exceptions applies. The DWP calls this process ‘natural migration’. Your other legacy benefits end when you have a change that means you are no longer entitled to it (for example, if you get income-based JSA and start work, or you get income support and your youngest child reaches age five years).

Your legacy benefits (including HB) can also be ended by the DWP if it serves you with a migration notice that tells you to claim UC instead. The DWP calls this process ‘managed migration’. It is the process by which all the remaining old legacy benefit awards are converted to UC. But the DWP isn’t expected to start this process until at least sometime late in 2020.

If you are served with a migration notice your legacy benefits end three months after the date of the notice and you will have to claim UC instead. If you claim UC within those three months or within one month after, your UC starts the day after your legacy benefits end. If you claim UC four months or more after your notice period ends your UC starts from the date you claim it.

Housing benefit (HB)

If you (or you and your partner) are pension age you must claim housing benefit (HB) to get help with your rent. HB is assessed and awarded by the local authority who issues your council tax bill. A claim can be made directly to the local authority. You can always start a claim in writing (e.g. by writing a letter saying you want to claim). Most local authorities allow you to make a claim online, and some accept both online and telephone claims.

If you are also claiming state pension credit (SPC) you can start your claim for HB at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as part of your SPC claim. You can claim SPC online or by telephone (0800 99 1234). If you start a claim at the DWP the local authority can also ask you to complete their own claim form (either in writing, online, or by telephone).

Council tax rebate (CTR)

A claim for council tax rebate (CTR) must always be made directly to your local authority (the council). In the law CTR claims are called ‘applications’ and can be made in writing, online (if your authority accepts online claims), or by telephone, if the authority has published a number for that purpose. You cannot apply for CTR at the DWP either when you claim UC or state pension credit (SPC). If you claim UC or SPC the DWP may ask you if you would like to apply for CTR and pass the information on to the authority: but this does not constitute a legally valid application for CTR.

Registering and completing your claim for UC/HB/CTR

You can register your intention to claim UC/HB/CTR in whatever form the DWP/council accepts (in writing, online, email or phone) and if you do you have one month to complete your claim.

Your claim is complete only if you have answered all the questions and provided all the evidence and information according to the instructions on the form (whether the form is in writing or online).

If you claim online your claim is only complete if the computer accepts your form and you provide all the evidence and information you are asked to supply. If you abandon the claim before the process is complete, then the DWP/ council does not have to deal with it. If you claim by telephone your claim is only complete if you answer all questions.

If your claim is completed according to the instructions on the form but the DWP/council require further information the DWP/council must decide your claim even if you do not provide the extra evidence.

Backdating a claim for UC/HB/CTR

UC/HB/CTR can normally only be awarded from the date you start your claim. Sometimes a claim can be backdated but the rules are strict - if you delay your claim to get further advice (including advice about your immigration status) backdating is usually refused.

Regardless of how good your reasons are, the maximum period of backdating allowed for UC is one month from the date you first asked to claim, or if you are claiming a passport benefit, three months if your passport benefit is also backdated.

If you are claiming pension-age HB your claim can be backdated for up to three months or the date you would have first qualified for it if this is less than three months ago. You do not need a good reason for backdating, it is automatic if you request it. If you claimed state pension credit (SPC) and HB at the DWP your HB is backdated to the date your SPC is awarded from, if this was more than three months ago.

In England, Wales and Scotland if you are of pension age your council can backdate your CTR for up to three months (or from the date you are first entitled if this is less); you do not need a good reason. For working age claims:

  • In England the rules about backdating depend on your council’s scheme rules (which may or may not allow backdating) but you will normally need to show good cause.
  • In Wales your council can backdate your CTR if you can show good cause for three months, or longer if its own scheme rules allow.
  • In Scotland your council can backdate your CTR for up to six months if you can show good cause.

Information and evidence to complete your claim for UC/HB/CTR

To complete your claim the DWP/council can ask you to provide any documents or certificates that it 'reasonably requires' to prove you meet the conditions. You may be asked to provide evidence of any or all of the following:

  • you and your partner's national insurance number (e.g. NINO card), or
    • any evidence that will enable the authority to establish what it is (passport, birth certificate, etc); or
    • if you do not have one, an application for one to be allocated together with any evidence required to do this
  • your identity (e.g. passport)
  • immigration status (passport / national identity card / UK residence card)
  • your address (typically a recent utility bill or bank statement)
  • your tenancy agreement or other contract with your landlord
  • your income and capital (benefit award letter, payslips, bank statements)
  • anything else that is reasonably required to establish your entitlement.

The first item (national insurance number) is compulsory: your claim must be refused if you do not comply. There is only one exception: if you are a member of a couple but only one of you is subject to immigration control, in which case it only applies to the person who is eligible for UC/HB/CTR.

Otherwise the DWP/council should give you time to provide the evidence to complete your claim: usually one month - but they can allow longer if it is reasonable to do so (e.g. if you are waiting for the Home Office to return your documents). The DWP/council can only ask you to provide what it is reasonable. It cannot ask you to provide documentary evidence if none exists. For example, your tenancy agreement with your landlord may be verbal (in which case it may verify it by asking for other evidence).

Some councils apply the DWP's security guidance rigidly and only accept original documents - but this is guidance only and tribunals are not bound by it.

Are there any particular problems?

Migrants often face delays whilst their claims are processed. Sometimes the councils will postpone making a decision until you have been allocated a national insurance number (for example, following the grant of refugee status). This is wrong: the claim can be processed once the application for a NINO has been made, provided that the NINO application includes the information and evidence needed to process it.