How to claim universal credit

How your housing element is worked out

Your housing element is part of your universal credit payment. 

It won't always cover your full rent.

You must pay any shortfall from other income to avoid rent arrears.

The housing element is worked out using different rules for:

  • private renters

  • council and housing association tenants

You can't get the housing element if you pay rent to a close family member who you live with or if your living arrangement is seen as non commercial.

You can apply for a discretionary housing payment (DHP) if your housing element won't cover your rent.

Help with mortgage payments

You can't get a universal credit housing element if you need help to pay a mortgage.

You might qualify for a support for mortgage interest (SMI) loan if you're unemployed for 9 months or more and getting universal credit.

Private renters

Your housing element is worked out using local housing allowance (LHA) rules.

How much you get is based on:

  • where you live in the UK

  • how many bedrooms you can claim for under the rules

Find out how to to check your LHA rate

If you're under 35 and single with no children, you can usually only get the shared accommodation rate

What to do if your benefits don't cover the rent

Your LHA rate is the maximum amount you can get to help with rent.

You may not get the full rate. For example, if your actual rent is lower or if you're working.

  1. Pay any shortfall to avoid rent arrears

  2. Check if you could qualify for a higher LHA rate

  3. Get benefits advice if you think you're on the wrong LHA rate

  4. Apply for a discretionary housing payment

Council and housing association tenants

Your housing element is based on your actual rent so it's more likely to cover your rent in full if you're not working.

But universal credit won't cover some service charges including:

  • heating, water or lighting in your home

  • personal care and support

  • meals

You will be affected by the bedroom tax if you have more rooms than the rules allow

Hostels, refuges, supported or temporary housing

You can claim universal credit if you live in these types of housing but you might not get the housing element as part of your monthly payment.

You have to claim housing benefit as well if you don't get the housing element.

Ask your landlord or housing provider if you don't know which benefit to claim to help with your rent.                                

What happens with a joint tenancy

If you and your partner are joint tenants, your housing element is based on your full rent because you're joint tenants with a joint universal credit claim.

The DWP should continue to apply to this rule if your relationship has broken down and your ex-partner has moved out. Even if they are still named on the tenancy, the DWP should treat you as responsible for the full rent when calculating your housing element.

If you have a private joint tenancy with someone who is not your partner, then your housing element will be based on your actual share of the rent or your LHA rate - whichever is lower. You and the other joint tenants remain legally responsible for the whole of the rent.

What if other adults live with you

The DWP can reduce your housing element if you have other adults living with you on an informal basis. For example, an adult child or friend who doesn’t pay rent.

These deductions are called housing costs contributions and are made because the DWP expects your friend or family member to contribute to your rent.

From 6 April 2021 the deduction is £75.53 a month. Ask your friend or family member if they could contribute to your rent to make up the difference.

Find out when the DWP should not make a deduction.

If you or a family member are away from home

You can only get the housing element for your main home that you live in. 

Who lives with you affects how your housing element is worked out.

Find out:

Need to pay rent at more than one address?

You may be able to claim for both homes in the following situations:

  • you've left your usual home because of fear of violence

  • you're waiting for disability adaptions to your new home

  • you've moved within the last 4 weeks and still have to pay rent for your old home

Find out more about getting the housing element for 2 homes.

Last updated: 5 October 2021

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