Housing Systems: Combating poverty and sustaining tenancies.

Coronavirus: Housing Benefit - Temporary Absences
Housing Benefit - Temporary Absences

  • To get Housing Benefit the claimant must occupy the property as their normal home. But in some situations people can be treated as occupying it.

  • HB can continue for absences of less than 13 weeks so long as the claimant intends to return, (4 weeks* in most cases of absence from Great Britain) and in certain specified cases absences of up to 52 weeks can still be covered by HB. The time limit will depend on the reason for absence.
    The more generous 52 week rule applies to:

    • Claimants in hospital or receiving medically approved care, or 
    • Claimants caring for others, where medically approved, or
    • Claimants fleeing violence, or 
    • Claimants on remand before they have been sentenced, or 
    • Claimants on certain approved training courses.

  • If the claimant was not on HB before the temporary absence, they can make a new claim (so long as they are in a category of people who can make a new claim for HB) even though not living in the property if they meet all the normal eligibility rules and the temporary absence rules. If they can't make a new claim for HB they will need to claim UC and look to the UC temporary absence rules.

  • The home must not have been sublet during the absence period.

  • In a few circumstances HB can be paid both for the home temporarily left and on the temporary accommodation where the claimant is now staying; for example in certain situations of fleeing violence and couples where one is away from home receiving training. But if they move to a new LA, and are not one of the people who can make a new claim for HB, they will have to claim UC in the new home and will not get HB on the original.

  • Intention to return within the given time limit - ie 4, 13 or 52 weeks - is crucial to the decision on whether HB can be paid.  See bottom bullet point for those away from home for longer than the time limits due to Covid.

  • Note there are special rules for where a property has been closed by police eg because it has been used as a crack house; and where a claimant has been decanted to another property while their own home is being repaired.

  • As an absence is a change in circumstances the claimant should be advised to notify the HB Office that they are going away, albeit temporarily. This can prevent problems that can occur where the HB Office find out at a later date that the claimant is absent from their property and suspend or terminate the HB claim.

  • If the claimant does not notify the HB Office that they are absent, they might think no-one will know they have gone, but because a HB Office might carry out visits and leave cards and letters when no-one is in, this is a risk.

  • If the claimant has left, and is unable to claim HB, and is not paying the rent, then in certain circumstances a person left at home can be treated as liable for rent even if they are not the tenant. They can then claim HB themselves, if they are in a category of people who can make a new claim  for HB - otherwise they will need to claim UC. They should seek advice from a benefits adviser.

Covid easements

Back in 2020 it was announced that if the claimant was away from home more than 13 weeks due to self isolating/shielding then they might be allowed to stay on HB beyond the time limits.
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. "  Parliamentary Q and A here.

For advice for people who got stuck abroad see this page.
Frequently Asked Questions

My friend, who lives alone, is quite poorly and has been admitted to hospital. He gets Income Related ESA paid into his bank and Housing Benefit paid straight to his landlord. What will happen to his benefits while he is in hospital?

Both ESA and HB should continue to be paid.

You have not mentioned if he gets Personal Independence Payment or any other disability benefit. If he does, they might stop after 4 weeks and that could mean the amount of his ESA reduces after 4 weeks, but ESA should continue to be paid.

His Housing Benefit can continue for up to 52 weeks while he is away from home due to being in hospital and expecting to return within 52 weeks of when he was admitted.

If he is well enough, he should let the ESA and HB dept know that he is in hospital. If he is too poorly to do that, perhaps you or a member of his family could report the situation on his behalf. It would be wise let his landlord know too.

Our tenant's son is a key worker. He normally lives with her, but is currently staying away from home to be closer to the hospital where he works. Will there still be a non-dependant deduction for him?

If it is just a temporary absence then he will be treated as still living with her. This would be where he is intending to return within 13 weeks. And therefore a non-dependant deduction should continue to be made (and he should continue to be allocated a bedroom too).