How to deal with benefits and claims
Updated: 23 May 2013
Housing Benefit is a Social Security benefit administered by us on behalf of the Social Security Agency. A tenant on low income or claiming benefits may be entitled to Housing Benefit to help them cover the cost of their rent.
Processing claims promptly can do much to prevent tenants falling into arrears at the start of the tenancy. Note that Housing Benefit payments are made four weekly in arrears if paid direct to the landlord and two weekly in arrears if paid to the tenant.
The payment of Housing Benefit is dependent on two things - the property type and the circumstances of the tenant. Not all claimants receive full Housing Benefit - it can cover part of the rent for people on low incomes.
As a landlord you will want to know that the tenant can meet the rental liability. If a tenant informs you that they are claiming Housing Benefit in order to help them meet the rental payment then it is in your interests to complete the Certificate of Occupation section of your tenant's claim form to ensure the claim can be processed.
Do remember that Housing Benefit is the claimant's benefit. This means that there are restrictions on what we can tell you regarding your tenant's Housing Benefit claim.
Local Housing Allowance
Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is the Housing Benefit Scheme for tenants who rent accommodation from private landlords. The scheme enables people who are thinking about moving to privately rented accommodation to know in advance what rent level their Housing Benefit would be based on.
This helps tenants choose the accommodation they can afford. We have divided Northern Ireland into eight Broad Rental Market Areas (BRMAs). Each area covers a number of neighbourhoods. We set LHA rates for different sizes of property within each BRMA.
The LHA rates are published on this website. This will allow landlords and tenants to find out the maximum amount of rent that will be used to calculate Housing Benefit. This will mean that prospective tenants no longer need to request a Pre-Tenancy Determination, although a Certificate of Occupation still needs to be completed by the landlord.
We will need to see evidence of the rent charge. The preferred option is to provide the rent book or a copy of the tenancy agreement or the statement of tenancy terms.
- Download a sample Tenancy agreement ( 222 KB)
- Download a sample Rent book ( 89 KB)
- Download a sample Statement of tenancy terms ( 54 KB)
It is also worth noting that certain service charges, for example, heating and lighting, are not eligible to be covered by Housing Benefit.
Housing Benefit payments
The LHA scheme in Northern Ireland is different from the scheme in England, Scotland and Wales. Claimants can choose if they want their 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?
Housing Benefit is normally paid to the claimant. However, under the current rules 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. There is now an option to receive this notification by secure email.
Landlord Payment Schedule Notifications by secure email
We are currently piloting a new scheme where 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 ( 218 KB)
How you can help with new claims
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
- ensure the tenant has the statement of tenancy terms, tenancy agreement, or a rent book as proof of the tenancy
Restrictions on information
Housing Benefit is an agreement between the Housing Executive and the tenant. This means that there are restrictions on what we can tell you in connection with a claim.
For example, you cannot get information regarding the tenants' income or personal circumstances. Where the tenant indicates on the Housing Benefit claim form that the Housing Benefit is to be paid directly to you then you are what is known as a 'person affected'. You will receive notification from us.
Information and evidence required
In addition to the information and evidence that your tenant must provide, you must complete the 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 egreement 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.