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Temporary absences from home

This content applies to England

When housing benefit will be paid if the claimant is temporarily absent from home.

Period of temporary absence

A housing benefit claimant (or household member) may be treated as occupying the home, and therefore continue to be eligible for housing benefit, even if s/he is temporarily absent from it. Housing benefit is payable during periods of temporary absence if:

  • a claimant intends to return to live in her/his home
  • has not sublet it
  • the period of absence is unlikely to exceed the time allowed - this can be four, eight, 13, 26 or 52 weeks, as appropriate depending on the circumstances of the absence (see below).

In calculating the period of absence the first day of absence is included and the day of return is excluded.[1]

A fresh period of temporary absence for which housing benefit is payable can start following a return to the property (this could be for as little as 24 hours).[2] This does not apply to a prisoner on temporary release who returns home.[3]

Absence up to 13 weeks

The standard rule is that a period of absence from home must not be (or must not be expected to be) more than 13 weeks.[4] There are different time limits for periods of absence outside Great Britain.

If it transpires that a period of absence is or will be longer than 13 weeks, the claimant is entitled to housing benefit up to the time at which s/he is no longer expected to return home within 13 weeks.[5]

Absence up to 52 weeks

A claimant can remain entitled to housing benefit for an absence within Great Britain that is (or is expected to be) no more than 52 weeks if s/he is:[6]

  • a prisoner who has not been sentenced (ie is on remand awaiting trial or has been convicted but is awaiting sentence)
  • living in a bail or probation hostel, or bailed to live away from her/his home
  • a hospital patient or living in accommodation other than residential accommodation for the purpose of receiving medically approved treatment or care[7]
  • providing medically approved care to someone else, or caring for a child under 16 years old whose parent or guardian is away from home because s/he is receiving 'medically approved' care
  • fleeing because of violence or a fear of violence in her/his home
  • on a government approved training course[8]
  • a student who is eligible for housing benefit (eg if they have to study abroad as part of their course)
  • receiving care in residential accommodation, but not staying in the home on a trial basis.

If it transpires that a period of absence is or will be longer than 52 weeks, the claimant is entitled to housing benefit up to the time at which s/he no longer expects to return home within 52 weeks.[9]

In some exceptional circumstances (such as a relapse or other unanticipated event), the period of absence can exceed 52 weeks, as long as it is unlikely to substantially exceed this period.[10] Payments will, however, still only cover the 52-week period.

Although the '52 week rule' may indirectly discriminate against hospital patients suffering from severe mental illness due to the increased likelihood of such claimants being detained in hospital for longer than 52 weeks, the Court of Appeal held that the rule was not manifestly without reasonable foundation, and for entitlement to housing benefit to cease in those circumstances.[11]

Absence outside Great Britain

From 28 July 2016 rules govern the period of temporary absence for which housing benefit is payable when the claimant (or household member) is absent outside of Great Britain (GB).

GB comprises England, Wales and Scotland. It does not include Northern Ireland, the Channel Isles or the Isle of Man.

Absence up to four weeks

A claimant (or household member) will not be treated as occupying the home if they are temporarily absent from GB for a period exceeding four weeks. When calculating the period of absence, the day of departure from GB is taken into account and the day of return is disregarded.[12]

In specified circumstances a person can be treated as occupying the home for a longer period of absence from GB.

Absence up to eight weeks due to bereavement

Where a claimant is absent from GB in connection with the death of a close relative and the local authority considers it unreasonable for the person to return within the first four weeks, housing benefit can be paid for up to eight weeks.[13]

A 'close relative' is defined as a mother, father, sister, brother, daughter or son, including in-laws, step-parent/child, half-brother/sister and the partners of any of these.[14]

Absence up to 26 weeks

In specified situations, a claimant may remain entitled to housing benefit for a 26-week period of absence from GB. This applies where the claimant is:[15]

  • a member of the armed forces on operations overseas
  • absent because of fear of violence in the home or domestic abuse
  • receiving medical treatment in hospital
  • undergoing (or her/his partner or dependant child is undergoing) medical treatment or medically approved convalescent care in accommodation other than residential accommodation
  • a mariner or continental shelf worker.

Combining periods of absence within and outside GB

The 13 (or 52) week period continues to run during any period of absence from GB.[16] However, as soon as the absence from GB exceeds the allowed period (four, eight or 26 weeks depending on the circumstances), entitlement to housing benefit ceases until such time as the claimant returns home. In other words, exceeding the temporary absence period allowed outside GB ends HB entitlement from the point the period is exceeded. This is the case even if the total period away from home is less than 13 (or 52) weeks.

For example, where the 13-week period applies, a claimant may be absent from home within GB for five weeks, then absent abroad for four weeks, and then for a further four weeks within GB before housing benefit entitlement ceases.

It is arguable that a 13 (or 52) week absence within GB could be followed immediately by up to four (or eight or 26) weeks absence outside of GB with no return to the home in between, without ending eligibility for housing benefit.[17]

Housing Benefit Circular A7/2016 gives examples where a period of absence outside GB follows absence within GB.

Moving out due to essential repairs

Tenants who have to move while essential repairs are being carried out on their home (eg, following flooding) may be eligible for housing benefit on temporary accommodation if they rent it. However they will not be entitled to payments on more than one home.

If they remain liable to pay rent on their normal home as well, it will be for the local authority to decide which home is to be treated as their main home. Homeowners who have to move out while essential repairs are being carried out could be eligible for housing benefit on temporary accommodation if they are paying rent there.[18]

Residential care on trial or temporary basis

If a claimant moves into a residential care home on a trial basis, for example to see if it is suitable for her/his needs, with the intention on the day of entry to return to her/his home if the trial proves unsuccessful, s/he can receive housing benefit on her/his old home for up to 13 weeks.[19] This entitlement is not affected if, during that time, s/he decides to stay in residential accommodation permanently.[20]

Where a claimant enters residential care on a temporary basis, for example while her/his carer is temporarily unavailable, with the intention to return to her/his original home, s/he is entitled to housing benefit to pay for the original home for up to 52 weeks.

With effect from 28 July 2016, housing benefit will only be paid for an absence of up to four weeks when the residential accommodation is outside GB.[21

Absence of household member

A claimant's partner, dependent child or qualifying 'young person'[22] will be treated as occupying the home if they are away from home in Great Britain, and intend to return home within 52 weeks. In exceptional circumstances a longer absence is allowed (for example where the person is in hospital or otherwise has no control over the length of her/his absence) and the absence is unlikely to be substantially more than 52 weeks.[23]

Where the absence is abroad the absence allowed is restricted to the time limits that apply to the claimant (as set out above) .

A son or daughter (or step-son or daughter) who is a member of the armed forces away on operations will be treated as occupying the home indefinitely if s/he:[24]

  • lived at home as the claimant's non-dependant
  • intends to return home when not away on operations.

[1] reg 7(13) and (17) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213; KdeS v Camden LBC [2011] UKUT 457 AAC; CB v Liverpool CC (HB) [2015] UKUT 359 AAC.

[2] R v Penwith DC HBRB ex parte Burt (1990) 28 HLR 292; HK v South Hams DC (HB) [2017] UKUT 254 (AAC); A3.460 HB/CTB Guidance Manual, DWP.

[3] reg 7(14) and (15) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213; A3.510 HB/CTB Guidance Manual, DWP.

[4] reg 7(12) and (13) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213; reg 7(12) and (13) Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214.

[5] para 12, Commissioner's decision CH/1237/2004.

[6] reg 7(16)-(17) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213; reg 7(16) Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214.

[7] Torbay Borough Council v RF [2010] UKUT 7 (AAC).

[8] reg 7(18) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.

[9] para 12, Commissioner's decision CH/1237/2004.

[10] reg 7(17) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213; reg 7(17) Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214.

[11] Obrey and others v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Equality and Human Rights Commission (Intervener) [2013] EWCA Civ 1584; see also JE v SCC (HB) [2017] UKUT 0114 (AAC).

[12] para 13D, reg 7 Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213 as inserted by reg 2(2)(d) Housing Benefit and State Pension Credit (Temporary Absence) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 SI 2016/624; para 13D reg 7 he Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for state pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214 as inserted by reg 3(2)(d) Housing Benefit and State Pension Credit (Temporary Absence) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 SI 2016/624; Slough Borough Council v PK [2019] UKUT 128 (AAC).

[13] para 13E, reg 7 Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213 as inserted by reg 2(d) Housing Benefit and State Pension Credit (Temporary Absence) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 SI 2016/624.

[14] reg 2(1) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213; reg 2(1) Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214; Bristol CC v JKT [2016] UKUT 0517 (AAC) 2016/624.

[15] paras 13F, 13G, 16 and 17C, reg 7 Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213 as inserted by reg 2(d)(e) and (g) Housing Benefit and State Pension Credit (Temporary Absence) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 SI 2016/624.

[16] paras 13A and 17A, reg 7 Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213 as inserted by reg 2(d) and (g) Housing Benefit and State Pension Credit (Temporary Absence) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 SI 2016/624.

[17] paras 13 and 13D of reg 7 Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213 as inserted by reg 2(d) Housing Benefit and State Pension Credit (Temporary Absence) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 SI 2016/624; see also para 7.14 of the Explanatory Memorandum to SI 2016/624.

[18] reg 7(4) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213; reg 7(4) Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214.

[19] reg 7(11) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.

[20] Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v Selby DC [2006] EWCA Civ 271.

[21] para 11, reg 7 Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 as amended by reg 2(a) and (b) Housing Benefit and State Pension Credit (Temporary Absence) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 SI 2016/624.

[22] reg 19(1) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.

[23] reg 21 Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.

[24] regs 2, B13(8) and 13D(12) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.

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