Due to the Coronavirus some people are stuck abroad and struggling to get back to the UK.
There has been no change to the HB regulations, however, we have heard that there is some internal guidance to Housing Benefit staff, advising that they can continue to pay HB where the claimant is stuck abroad and is unable to return due to the Coronavirus travel restrictions. Also, in answer to a parliamentary question about UC for people unable to return home due to Covid-19, Baroness Stedman Scott said on 29 July 2020:
"The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continues to support existing benefit recipients in exceptional cases where their absence from home goes over the period allowed under the temporary absence benefit rules as they are self-isolating due to COVID-19.
Although the DWP has overall responsibility for the Housing Benefit scheme and its funding, local authorities have the statutory responsibility for its day-to-day administration. This includes the assessment of individual claims for benefit. " Parliamentary Q and A here.
However note this is in reference to self-isolating and shielding, and does not specifically refer to absences abroad..
So it is possible that HB could continue in payment when it would normally stop once the claimant has been abroad longer than the period allowed under the temporary absence rules (normally 4 weeks). This is understood to be an extra-statutory payment – ie the HB regulations have not been changed, but the payments may be allowed in these circumstances.
Anyone who had their HB stopped in this situation should ask for their HB to be reinstated by requesting a revision.
However, if they are not already on HB, we do not think that they will be able to make a new claim for it while abroad, even if they are someone who can normally make a new claim eg pension age and have no income for the period they are abroad. When they do return, they could claim and try for a backdate (no guarantees with the backdate but no harm in asking!)
If they are not pension age, or working age and not normally living in 'specified' or temporary accommodation, then they will not be able to make a new claim for HB.
They would need to claim UC.
But one of the criteria for claiming UC is to be "in Great Britain" so a new claim for UC cannot be made from abroad.
It is worth checking to see if there is anyone else living in the property who may already be getting UC or HB, or could make a new claim for UC (or HB if pension age). They may be able to get help with the rent if the DWP (for UC) or the local authority (for HB) considers it reasonable to treat them as liable for the rent in the tenant's absence.
If their HB ends and the above solutions are not possible, they need to contact their landlord to explain the situation, and contact the British Embassy /Consulate in the country where they are staying, to request assistance. Contact details on this gov.uk page.
They should also follow the advice about seeking local support and/or applying for an emergency government loan, as given in the parliamentary answer below; they should also check to see if their travel insurance covers rent payments while away.
In a parliamentary answer in relation to people stranded abroad, on 22nd June 2020, Justin Tomlinson stated:
"FCO consular staff continue to provide advice and support to British nationals who face financial difficulties overseas due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Those in real financial distress whilst stranded overseas can seek advice and support from their local consular team, who will be able to advise on any local support that may be available as well as facilitate contact with friends and families who may be able to help. The FCO are also working with Non-Governmental Organisations to facilitate support to British nationals in need, including accommodation, food and medicine.
If a British national cannot afford travel costs back to the UK or essential living costs while they are waiting to return and have exhausted all other options they may be eligible to apply for an emergency loan from the government. These loans are interest free. This is a last resort option, with repayment required in full. However, the FCO would work with those British nationals’ currently stranded overseas to ensure flexible repayment plans are in place if they cannot afford to repay the loan within six months."
See here for information on Universal Credit for those stuck abroad due to the Coronavirus travel restrictions.