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Changes in circumstances

This content applies to England

Examples of changes in circumstance that might affect a housing benefit claim, and what claimants must do if they have a change in circumstances.

Duty to notify relevant changes

The claimant has a duty to notify the local authority's 'designated office' in writing (or, in some areas, by telephone or online) of any 'relevant' changes in circumstance – i.e. a change in circumstance that s/he might reasonably be expected to know could affect her or his housing benefit. This could include changes in income or savings or increases in the rent for private and housing association tenants. If housing benefit is paid direct to the claimant's landlord or appointee, the landlord/appointee is under the same duty.[1]

Designated office

The postal address of the 'designated office' must be included on every housing and council tax benefit claim forms. Claim forms and decision letters where the 'designated office' is not identified in a sufficiently precise manner could result in an overpayment not being recoverable.

A housing department which did not pass on information about a claimant's change of circumstances to the council tax and benefits service made an official error and the resulting overpayment could not be recovered.[2]

Specific changes that claimant must notify

The following specific changes in circumstance must be reported:[3]

Working age claimants

  • when entitlement to income support, income-based jobseeker's allowance (JSA) or income-related employment support allowance (ESA) ends (in some circumstances this can be reported to the DWP) - also see 'sanctions' below
  • a child or young person leaves home or their child benefit stops.

Pension age claimants

  • changes in rent (except for local authority tenants)
  • changes affecting the residence or income of any non-dependant
  • temporary absences that are likely to exceed:
    • 13 weeks, or
    • (with effect from 21 December 2017) four weeks if outside Great Britain[4].

There are additional changes that must be reported if the claimant is in receipt of savings credit of pension credit including:

  • if her/his capital rises to above £16,000
  • changes affecting a child that could affect entitlement (but no requirement to report age changes)

Change of circumstance involving couples

A change in status such as separation or cohabitation will also be a change of circumstances potentially affecting a claimant's housing benefit.

Only one member of a couple who live together can be the claimant. For more information see Making a claim.

In the event that the person who is the claimant permanently leaves the home her/his entitlement to housing benefit will end. The remaining person, where s/he is liable to pay the rent (or is treated as such), will be required to make a fresh claim.[5] The temporary absence (even if it is for longer than the period allowed) of the claimant when the other partner remains in the home will not end the claimant's entitlement to housing benefit.

Change of circumstance involving universal credit

Where a person claiming housing benefit (the 'new claimant partner') moves in with a universal credit claimant as her/his partner, the housing benefit claimant's local authority will close down her/his housing benefit claim from the Sunday after the change of circumstance (ie moving out), and not from the day s/he moves in with the universal credit claimant and becomes entitled to universal credit as part of a joint claim.[6] This avoids an overpayment where there there is a genuine rental liability that continues after the new claimant partner has moved out. Housing costs on the shared accommodation will be met by universal credit, which is paid monthly in arrears.

See Housing costs under universal credit for information on how housing costs are calculated.

Where a universal credit claimant moves in with a person claiming housing benefit, the housing benefit award will terminate on the day before universal credit entitlement begins – as universal credit is paid monthly in arrears, the rental liability for the entire month will be covered by universal credit and there will no housing benefit overpayment.

Changes that don’t have to be notified

The following changes of circumstances do not have to be notified:[7]

  • age of the claimant, partner, children or non-dependants
  • rent changes for local authority tenants
  • changes affecting entitlement to income support, income-based JSA or income-related ESA (unless the claimant’s entitlement is ending)

Benefit sanctions

A local authority should not suspend or terminate a claim for housing benefit when a claimant is subject to sanctions imposed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

A claimant is considered to be in receipt of income-based JSA if payment of that benefit is suspended due to sanctions imposed by the DWP.[8] A claimant of income-related ESA or income support who is subject to sanctions cannot have that benefit reduced to below 10 pence per week. This allows the claimant to retain her/his entitlement to housing benefit.[9]

Notifying a birth or a death

Notification of a change in circumstances that involves a birth or a death can be made through personal attendance at a local authority office. Where the change is a death, notification may alternatively be given by telephone in some areas.[10] This system is known as 'Tell Us Once'.

More information on areas covered is available from Gov.uk: What to do after someone dies.

Fraud and criminal liability

If a claimant knowingly fails to inform the local authority of a change of circumstances which has affected her/his entitlement to benefits then they will be guilty of a criminal offence under section 112 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992, which can lead to a fine or imprisonment. If there is also an element of dishonesty in failing to notify then a more severe offence, punishable by fine or up to seven years imprisonment, will have been committed under section 111A of the Act.

However, it is important to note that an offence will only have been committed if the change of circumstances would have affected entitlement to benefits, not merely if it may be something which a benefits officer might have taken into consideration when calculating entitlement.[11] If a claimant is in any doubt as to the effect of any change the advice must be for her/him to report the change in circumstances.

Where the claimant's negligence in relation to reporting a change of circumstances results in an overpayment of benefit, but where the behaviour does not reach the threshold at which a criminal prosecution may be made, the authority may impose a fixed 'civil penalty'. See the page Overpayments of housing benefit for more information on civil penalties.

Alternative to prosecution

For 'low level' benefit fraud the imposition of an administrative penalty can be used as an alternative to criminal prosecution.[12] An administrative penalty can be issued by a local authority or the DWP.

Time of notification

A change in circumstances will be considered effective from the Monday after the week in which the change actually occurred.[13] There is an exception for claims relating to a tenancy with a daily rent liability (eg hostel accommodation) in which case the change is effective on the day it occurs.[14]

If a claimant takes more than one month to notify the local authority of something that means s/he qualifies for more housing benefit, and has no special circumstances for this delay, then s/he does not get the increase in her/his housing benefit until s/he notifies the authority of the change.[15]

Information-sharing in relation to welfare services

The sharing of certain information between local authorities, their housing and benefit departments, the DWP and certain other 'qualifying persons',[16] such as private registered providers of social housing (PRPSHs) and service providers, is permitted (but not required).[17] The categories of welfare services and the purposes for which claimant information can be shared under the powers above include:[18]

  • Blue Badge scheme
  • Disabled Facilities Grant
  • discretionary housing payments
  • non residential care
  • residential care
  • Supporting People scheme
  • homelessness functions
  • support for troubled families, and
  • support for people affected by new benefit rules (in particular the benefit cap and social sector size criteria), and who may as a result need some help or support.

[1] reg 88 Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213 (as amended); reg 69 Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214.

[2] Commissioner's decision CH/2567/2008; see also RW v Sheffield CC and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2016] UKUT 0234 (AAC).

[3] reg 88(3) and (4) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213 (as amended); reg 69(6) and (7) Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214 (as amended).

[4] reg 69(6)(c) Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214 as amended by Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments No. 5) Regulations 2017 SI 2017/1187.

[5] reg 82(1) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213; RW v Sheffield CC and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2016] UKUT 0234 (AAC).

[6] reg 7(5) Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2014 SI 2014/1230; HB circular A12/2014.

[7] reg 88(3) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213 (as amended); reg 69(3) Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214.

[8] reg 2(3) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213 (as amended); HB bulletin U1/2015.

[9]> reg 63(3) Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008 SI 2008/794; reg 8(3) Income Support (Work-Related Activity) and Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 2014 SI 2014/1097.

[10] Social Security (Notification of changes of circumstances) Regulations 2010 SI 2010/444.

[11] R v Passmore [2007] EWCA Crim 2053; Coventry CC v Vassell [2011] EWHC 1542 (Admin).

[12] s.115A of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 as amended by s.114 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012.

[13] reg 79(1) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213; reg 59(1) Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214.

[14] reg 79(8) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.

[15] regs 7 and 8 Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 2001 SI 2001/1002.

[16] s.131(11) Welfare Reform Act 2012.

[17] s.130 and s.131 Welfare Reform Act 2012.

[18] Social Security (Information-sharing in relation to Welfare Services etc) Regulations 2012 SI 2012/1483; HB Circular A5/2012.

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