How liability for rent affects housing benefit claims
Anyone paying rent on a home they occupy can claim housing benefit, unless they are ineligible or are treated as not liable for rent.
Who can claim housing benefit
Potential claimants include council tenants, tenants of housing associations/PRPSHs, housing co-operative tenants, tenants with private landlords, hostel residents, bed and breakfast hotel occupiers and shared ownership occupiers (on the rental element of their payments) and Gypsies and Travellers (in respect of rent on council-run or private sites).
Claimant previously owned the home
Regulations prohibits entitlement to housing benefit where the claimant has previously owned the property being rented, and less than five years have elapsed since it was sold, unless they satisfy the appropriate authority that they or their partner 'could not have continued to occupy that dwelling without relinquishing ownership'. Where a person entered into a sale and rent back agreement because they had fallen into mortgage arrears, the courts held that they could not have continued to occupy the dwelling without selling it because they would have lost possession of it to the mortgage lender.
Rent and other charges
Housing benefit is not restricted to payments of rent. It also covers payments of:
a licence or permission fee to occupy the home
service charges which are a condition of the right to occupy the home
contribution towards maintenance and essential services by resident of a charitable almshouse provided by a housing association payments
under a rental purchase agreement.
pitch fee for a caravan or mobile home
mooring charges for a houseboat and continuous cruiser licence fees
Who can be treated as liable for rent
The following people can be treated as liable to pay the rent, even though they are not in fact liable:
the partner of the tenant
the former partner of the tenant who has left and is not paying the rent
someone who has to make payments to remain in the home because the tenant is not paying and it is reasonable to treat them as liable
a person whose liability to pay the rent has been waived by the landlord as compensation for repair or redecoration work that the claimant carried out themselves. This only applies for up to eight weeks
Where a person goes into prison they will need to make sure the rent liability continues to be met if they wish to preserve their tenancy. Although a person who was already living in the home can be treated as liable for rent (as above), this does not apply to a caretaker who wishes to move into the property to look after it while the prisoner is serving their sentence. In such cases the caretaker (or prisoner) will need to meet the liability from their own resources. However,
See Subtenancies for information on subletting the home and Penalties for unauthorised subletting of social housing on the possible consequences of subletting a social housing tenancy.
The Upper Tribunal has held that a person who lacked the mental capacity to enter into a tenancy agreement was found to be liable to make payments in consequence of the occupation of her home and thus eligible for housing benefit.
Last updated: 12 March 2021
reg 9(1)(h) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.
Upper Tribunal's decision CH/662/2010,  UKUT 315 (AAC).
reg 12(1) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.
AB v London Borough of Camden (HB)  UKUT 158 (AAC).
reg 8(1) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213; reg 8(1) Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for pension credit) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/214.
for examples of this point, see FK v Wandsworth BC (HB)  UKUT 0570 (AAC); Babergh DC v GW (HB)  UKUT 0040 (AAC); WL v Leicester CC (HB)  UKUT 151 (AAC); Commissioner’s Case No CH/606/2005.
Wychavon District Council v EM (HB)  UKUT 12 (AAC).