Housing benefit during temporary absences from home
Housing benefit is payable during limited periods of temporary absence if a claimant intends to return to their home and has not sublet it.
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 they are temporarily absent from it.
Housing benefit is payable during periods of temporary absence if:
a claimant intends to return to live in their 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
In calculating the period of absence the first day of absence is included and the day of return is excluded.
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). This does not apply to a prisoner on temporary release who returns home.
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. 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 they are no longer expected to return home within 13 weeks.
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 they are:
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 their home
a hospital patient or living in accommodation other than residential accommodation for the purpose of receiving medically approved treatment or care
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 they are receiving 'medically approved' care
fleeing because of violence or a fear of violence in their home
on a government approved training course
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 they no longer expect to return home within 52 weeks.
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. DWP guidance suggests that this should be interpreted as a total absence of up to 15 months. In these cases payments will still only be paid for a maximum of 52 weeks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 their 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. 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.
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 (for example 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 also pay rent on their usual home, the local authority decides 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.
Residential care on trial or temporary basis
If claimants move into a residential care home on a trial basis, for example to see if it is suitable for their needs, with the intention on the day of entry to return to their home if the trial proves unsuccessful, they can receive housing benefit on their old home for up to 13 weeks. This entitlement is not affected if, during that time, they decide to stay in residential accommodation permanently.
Where a claimant enters residential care on a temporary basis, for example while their carer is temporarily unavailable, with the intention to return to their original home, they are entitled to housing benefit to pay for the original home for up to 52 weeks.
With effect from 28 July 2016, housing benefit is only paid for an absence of up to four weeks when the residential accommodation is outside GB.
Absence of household member
A claimant's partner, dependent child or qualifying 'young person' is 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 their absence) and the absence is unlikely to be substantially more than 52 weeks.
Where the absence is abroad, the absence allowed is restricted to the time limits that apply to the claimant.
A son or daughter (or step-son or daughter) who is a member of the armed forces away on operations is treated as occupying the home indefinitely if they:
lived at home as the claimant's non-dependant
intend to return home when not away on operations
Last updated: 15 September 2022