Universal credit: Housing element when away from home

Find out how the universal credit housing element is affected if you or a household member are away from home. 

Going away for up to 6 months

You usually get a housing element as part of your monthly universal credit payment if you pay rent or certain service charges for the home you normally live in. 

You can get the housing element for up to 6 months while away from home if you:

  • expect to return within this time
  • stay within England, Scotland or Wales

You can usually be away for any reason.

You can't get the housing element if you know you'll be away for longer than 6 months. But you won't usually have to repay benefit if you expected to return within the time limit.

Away from home because of fear of violence

You can get the housing element for up to 12 months if you're away because of a reasonable fear of violence in your home or from an ex-partner. 

Threats or violence could be directed at you, your partner or any dependent children.

You must:

  • expect to return within 12 months
  • stay within England, Scotland or Wales

You might also qualify for help with housing costs at your temporary address.

If you decide not to return while you're away, you must report this as a change in circumstances. You won't get the housing element at your former address anymore and may need to end that tenancy to avoid rent arrears. 

You may still qualify for a housing element if you have to pay rent somewhere else.

If you're sent to prison

You don't usually qualify for any universal credit if you're in prison awaiting trial or serving a sentence.

If you got the housing element as a single person immediately before going to prison, you can continue to get it for up to 6 months if you've either: 

  • not been sentenced yet
  • been sentenced but expect to return home within 6 months

You should qualify if your sentence is less than 12 months, or even longer if you're likely to be released early on a tag. The Prison Service can confirm your earliest release date.

Moving out because of essential repairs

You can usually get the housing element for your normal home if you have to stay elsewhere because of essential repair work.

If you don't have to pay rent at your normal home during the repairs, you can get the housing element to help with rent at your temporary address if you need to. 

There's no time limit on how long you can be away for. But you must intend to return once the work is complete.

Going abroad

In most cases you can only get the housing element for up to 1 month when abroad. You must expect to return within the time limit. 

Going abroad means leaving England, Scotland and Wales. Travel to Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or Isle of Man counts as going abroad. 

Death of a close relative

You may be able to get the housing element for up to 2 months if you're abroad because of the death of your: 

  • partner
  • children or step-children
  • parents, step-parents or in-laws
  • brothers, sisters or their partners

You will only get the housing element for up to 2 months if it's unreasonable to expect you to return home within a month. Discuss this with your work coach before you go. 

Medical treatment abroad

You can get the housing element for up to 6 months if the only reason you're abroad is so that you, your partner or child can receive medical treatment or care. 

You must expect to return home within the time limit.

If household members are away temporarily

The number, age and sex of the people who live in your household affects the number of bedrooms you can claim for.

You can usually claim for household members who are away temporarily if they're expected to return within:

  • 6 months if they're in England, Scotland or Wales
  • 1 month if they go abroad (including Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and Isle of Man)

You can claim for a child or step-child indefinitely if they're away with the armed forces and they intend to return home when not on operations. 

You can claim for a household member who goes to prison, or for a child taken into care even if you don't expect them to return. After 6 months, your housing element is recalculated if they don't return to the family home. 

Counting the length of a temporary absence 

An absence starts on the day you leave your home and usually ends if you return home for at least 24 hours. 

If you go away again, it's usually treated as a new temporary absence. 

Example: You flee violence and get the housing element for 3 months while away. You return home when your ex-partner moves out. Within a few days you receive further threats so you leave again. You can get the housing element on your normal home for a further 12 months if you intend to return within this time.


Last updated 15 Jan 2019 | © Shelter

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