HB will only be payable whilst the claimant is abroad if they intend to return home within 4 weeks*
(or longer in certain circumstances - see below) where:
- They are unlikely to be away for more than the appropriate time limit - 4 or 8 or 26 weeks, and
- They intend to return to their normal home, and
- Have not sublet it, and
- They have a 'live' HB claim.
*The rules changed from 13 weeks on 28th July 2016 - which also changed the definition of 'abroad' (see below). HB Bulletin G4/2016
. HB Circular A7/2016
So what are the exceptions to the 4 week rule?
The limit time is 26 weeks for:
- Members of the armed forces posted abroad.
- Continental shelf workers.
- People fleeing fear of violence^ (has to be violence in the home unless from a former family member).
The time limit is also 26 weeks where:
- The claimant is in hospital or similar^,
- The claimant, partner or dependent child is undergoing medical treatment^, or
- The claimant is receiving medically approved care^ (other than in residential care).
Also, the time limit of 4 weeks can be extended by up to a further 4 weeks where:
- The reason for the absence from GB is in connection with the death of a close relative and the HB Office considers it unreasonable to expect the claimant to return to GB within 4 weeks.
Can it ever be longer than the 4 or 26 weeks?
The Regulations say that HB can be paid for up to 4 or 26 weeks where someone is away for certain reasons and the absence in 'exceptional circumstances is unlikely to substantially exceed' the 4 or 26 week limits. For example: where someone is delayed returning home due to an unexpected event they could receive HB for 4 (or 26 weeks) even though they are not back within the 4 or 26 week limit ie the HB Office have the discretion to allow a slightly longer absence - but not any more HB.
Going abroad - change to the definition
'Going abroad' for the purpose of these rules means away from Great Britain - a change from the previous rules where going abroad meant away from the UK. So if a claimant on HB goes to Northern Ireland they will be considered to be abroad and will fall under the above rules.
What if the claimant is abroad longer than these time limits?
Where a claimant does go abroad for longer than 4 weeks (or 8 or 26 weeks) no HB will be paid from the date the HB Office are aware their absence abroad will exceed the 4 or 8 or 26 week limit. This could be from the date they go abroad, or at some point whilst they are abroad if their plans or situation changes.
There may well be someone left living in the property who would be able to claim HB in their absence ie a partner; or someone who could be treated as liable for the rent eg a grown up son or daughter – but this would depend on whether the HB Office consider it reasonable to treat this person as liable for the rent in the tenant’s absence given the circumstances. HB Regulation 8(c). Click here for more information.
'Linking' periods of absence
Periods of absence are normally linked unless the claimant returns home (although an overnight stay can end one absence and start a fresh one).
If a person who goes abroad ceases to be regarded as occupying their normal home (because they have been away for 4 or 8 or 26 weeks) then they will still be treated as not occupying their normal home if, on their return to GB, they do not return home - even if they would normally be treated as occupying their home under the temporary absence rules.
Catrina has been staying at her sister Agatha's house in Devon to look after Agatha's 4 year old, Rees, while his Mum is in hospital. Catrina's HB continues to be paid as she intends to return within 52 weeks. After 10 weeks Catrina takes Rees away to stay with Gran in Greece for the summer holidays and they return after 6 weeks. Under the rules Catrina is not treated as occupying her normal home while abroad for these reasons, and is not regarded as occupying her normal home for the rest of her time at Agatha's either.
Non-dependants living in the household
These rules apply to anyone living in the household - so they apply to non-dependants as well (unless they fall under the 'in the armed forces away on operations' rule - click here).
Where a non-dependant is absent from the household outside of Great Britain - and does not fall under any of the exceptions/extensions that can apply as detailed above, then they will need to be returning home within 4 weeks to be counted as living in the property.
If they are away longer, then they will not be counted as living in the property from the first day of their absence outside of GB and therefore there should be no non-dependant deduction for the period they are 'abroad' - but note there will be a knock-on effect on the Bedroom Tax - below.
Bedroom Tax and absence abroad
Anyone who is absent from the property and not regarded as "temporarily absent" - because they do not intend to return within the relevant time period - is thereby regarded as "permanently absent" so not allocated a bedroom under Bedroom Tax or LHA rules.
This applies whether it is the claimant / partner, child, or non-dependant.
However depending on the family make-up and who is left in the property this may or may not have an effect on the Bedroom Tax deduction.
The 4 week absence rule for people going abroad could therefore have an impact on the amount of Housing Benefit to which a claimant is entitled when they or a member of the household is abroad.