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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Problems with housing benefit

Things can go wrong with your housing benefit claim.  If you were getting Housing Benefit when you shouldn’t have been, you’ll have to pay this money back.  You could also have problems if you have to pay rent on two homes for a while or have to leave your home temporarily.

Overpayments of housing benefit

An overpayment means you received housing benefit when you weren’t supposed to.  This can happen if

  • you gave the Housing Executive incorrect information about your income or savings
  • there was a change in your circumstances and you didn’t tell the Housing Executive
  • the Housing Executive didn’t know about a non-dependant living in your home.

You have to tell the Housing Executive about any changes in circumstances that could affect your benefit.  The Housing Executive can make you pay back any money you weren’t entitled to, unless

  • the Housing Executive has made a mistake, and
  • you couldn't have known that you were getting too much housing benefit, and
  • you didn't contribute to the Housing Executive making a mistake.

If you’ve been told you have to pay back housing benefit, contact our advisers at Housing Rights. The Housing Executive can make a deduction from your current housing benefit payments if you need to pay back an overpayment.  

Housing benefit for two homes

You can sometimes claim housing benefit for 2 different homes.  You may get housing benefit paid on 2 homes for up to 52 weeks if you have been forced to leave your main home because of violence or threats but you intend to return there.  You can get housing benefit on 2 homes for up to 4 weeks if

  • you have to move into a new home before the notice period on your old home finishes. The Housing Executive will only pay housing benefit on both properties if there’s no way you could have avoided this situation.
  • your main home is being adapted for someone who has a disability and you’ve had to move out while this is happening.
  • you’ve had to leave your main home because of violence or threat of violence but you don’t plan on returning to live there

Housing benefit if you can’t live in your home

You can sometimes get housing benefit to help with your rent for up to 52 weeks if you can’t live in your home at the moment but you intend to go back to it.  You could get this payment if

  • you have been admitted to hospital
  • you are getting medical treatment
  • you are absent because your dependant is receiving medical treatment
  • you are on remand or in a bail hostel
  • you are in residential accommodation, and you are planning to return home
  • you are afraid to return home

Housing benefit can also be paid for up to13 weeks if plan to return to your home but you’re not currently living there because:

£1 per week housing benefit

If the Housing Executive tells you that you are only allowed to get £1 per week in Housing Benefit you are probably a protected tenant.  This means that the amount of rent your landlord can charge is restricted by the Rent Officer for Northern Ireland.

If your landlord tries to make you pay more money on top of your housing benefit, get advice from Housing Rights.  Your landlord will have to prove that your tenancy is not protected before you can be made to pay him extra money on top of your housing benefit.  If you’ve been paying extra money when you didn’t have to an adviser can help you claim this back from your landlord.

Changes in circumstances

If you’re receiving certain benefits you will have to complete a housing benefit application form each year.  If you’re not o these benefits the Housing Executive can ask you to complete the form every 6 to 12 months.
You are responsible for making sure the Housing Executive knows about any change in your circumstances.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve already told another benefits agency, you have to tell the Housing Executive

  • your household size changes, (because someone moves in or out of the house or there is a birth or death in the household),
  • you (or someone in your home) starts work,
  • you (or someone in your home) starts claiming a new benefit,
  • you have a significant birthday that will change your entitlement to housing benefit,
  • your rent changes,
  • your income changes.

The Housing Executive will reassess your application after you tell it about your new circumstances. The amount of housing benefit you get will depend on your new circumstances.

If you don’t tell the Housing Executive about a change in circumstances you could

  • get less housing benefit than you should
  • have to pay back any money you weren’t entitled to
  • be prosecuted for fraud.

Extended payments

If you’ve been receiving certain benefits you may continue to receive housing benefit for 4 weeks if you start work or increase your hours or earnings.
You may be able to continue to receive housing benefit if you received any of the following benefits for at least 26 weeks up until your earnings increase:

  • Income support;
  • Jobseeker's allowance (income based); or
  • Employment and support allowance (income-related)
  • Incapacity benefit;
  • Severe Disability Allowance; or
  • Employment and support allowance (contribution-based).

If you stopped receiving the above benefits after taking up a job, increasing your hours of work or increasing your earnings you should automatically get this extended payment, as long as

  • your new work, increased hours or increased salary is expected to last at least five weeks.
  • you've been continuously receiving one or more of the above benefits for at least 26 weeks before your right to receive them ended.

The extended payment should happen automatically and will last for 4 weeks as long as you are still responsible for paying rent.  You’ll get the same amount of housing benefit that you would have been entitled to if your circumstances hadn’t changed.

Contrived tenancies

The Housing Executive will not pay housing benefit if it thinks a claim isn't genuine.  The Housing Executive can turn down claims if it thinks the tenancy is a contrived tenancy, a tenancy set up purely to take advantage of the housing benefit rules.

This will often happen if you rent a property from a family member.  The Housing Executive should approve the claim if you can show that the tenancy is a genuine commercial arrangement and that you will be evicted if you don't pay the rent.  The type of proof that can help show that the tenancy is genuine includes

  • a tenancy agreement, rent book and information about where the tenancy deposit has been protected
  • evidence that the property has previously been rented out to paying tenants
  • evidence that you've previously paid rent for this property

Contact Housing Rights if your claim for housing benefit was turned down because the Housing Executive think your tenancy was contrived.