Universal credit housing costs element occupation condition
Housing cost element under universal credit is paid towards the accommodation the person occupies as their home. Temporary absences are allowed.
Overview of the occupation condition
The housing cost element under universal credit is paid towards the accommodation the person occupies as their home. In certain circumstances it can be paid if the person is temporarily absent from their home.
There are different rules for absences outside and inside Great Britain. If the absence outside Great Britain exceeds the period allowed, the person will not be entitled to any universal credit. If the absence inside GB exceeds the period allowed, the person will not receive the housing cost element of their universal credit.
Great Britain comprises England, Wales and Scotland. It does not include Northern Ireland, the Channel Isles or the Isle of Man.
Temporary absences in Great Britain
A person is treated as occupying their home for the duration of the following periods of absence in Great Britain:
up to six months, when the absence is no longer (or expected to be no longer) than this period
up to 52 weeks when the claimant is living somewhere else because of reasonable fear of violence in their home, or by a former partner against the them, or a child they receive child benefit for
For the 52-week rule to apply, it must be unreasonable to expect the person to return because of the fear of violence and the person must intend to return to their home.
A person can be treated as occupying their home for an unspecified period if they have to move into alternative accommodation due to essential repairs being carried out in their home. They must intend to return to their home and meet the liability and payment conditions for either their original home, or their temporary home. The housing cost element is only paid for one home.
Temporary absences outside Great Britain
Universal credit is normally not payable when the claimant is absent outside of GB for a period exceeding one month, or when the absence is expected to exceed one month.
In specified circumstances a person can get universal credit for up to two or six months' absence from GB.
Two months' absence
Where a claimant is absent from GB in connection with the death of a partner, child or close relative and the DWP considers it unreasonable for the person to return within the first month, universal credit can be paid for up to eight weeks.
A close relative means children, step-children and in-laws, parents, step-parents and in-laws, siblings and partners of any of these.
Six months' absence
A claimant can continue to get universal credit for up to six months where the claimant (or their partner or dependant child) is:
receiving medical treatment
undergoing convalescent care for a condition that the claimant had before they left GB
A claimant can also continue to get universal credit for up to six months if they are a continental shelf worker in UK, EU or Norwegian waters, or a mariner.
Absence of household member
Where the absence is abroad, the absence allowed is restricted to the time limits that apply to the claimant.
A child who is taken into local authority care will not be treated as occupying the home unless it is for a planned respite break for the claimant.
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 they:
lived at home as the claimant's non-dependant
intend to return home when not away on operations
Housing cost element for prisoners
In general prisoners are not entitled to claim universal credit. However, they will be able to receive the housing cost element if:
they were entitled to universal credit as a single person immediately before they became a prisoner
this included the housing element, and
they have been sentenced to a period in custody that is expected to last no more than six months
There is no distinction between prisoners on remand or prisoners who have been sentenced. This is different to the housing benefit rules where there a longer period of temporary absence is allowed for prisoners on remand.
This only applies to the housing cost element of universal credit and an entitlement to any other element will cease once the claimant goes into custody.
Moving into accommodation after a stay in a hospital or care home
A claimant staying in a care home or hospital can have their housing costs met before they move in to a new home for up to one month. Under universal credit they can be treated as satisfying the occupation condition for up to one month before they move in. This condition is only met once they move in, and the housing costs element will then be backdated and added to their universal credit claim.
Payments on two homes
In limited circumstances a claimant can be paid the housing cost element of universal credit on two homes.
When a claimant is living somewhere else because of fear of violence in their home, and they intend to return to that home they can be paid the housing cost element on both properties for up to 52 weeks where:
they meet the payment and liability conditions for both properties
it is reasonable to pay housing costs for both of these properties
The housing costs element of universal credit cannot be paid in respect of exempt accommodation, so where a claimant moves into exempt accommodation while temporarily absent from their home because of the fear of violence, they will need to claim housing benefit on the exempt accommodation. A claimant in this situation can be awarded both universal credit and housing benefit.
Delay in moving due to disabled adaptations
A claimant can be paid the housing cost element for two homes for up to one month, where a move is delayed because they need to wait for necessary adaptations to be made because of a disability. Immediately before the move they must have:
satisfied the payment and liability conditions for the new accommodation
been entitled to the housing costs element for the old accommodation
The delay must be reasonable. The disabled person can be the claimant, their partner, or any child for whom they receive child benefit. The claimant must be in receipt of:
the middle or higher rate of the care component under disability living allowance
attendance allowance, or
the daily living component of personal independence payment
A payment can be backdated for up to one month where the claimant fell within the circumstances above during that period.
Claimants with large families
Claimants with large families can be paid the housing cost element for two homes, if they were housed in the two properties by a provider of social housing due to the number of dependent children that live with them.
This could include situations where the landlord is a local authority or housing association, or where the family have been housed in the private sector by a local authority carrying out its duties or powers under relevant legislation, such as under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996.
Last updated: 18 March 2021
Sch. 3 Part 1 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
Sch. 3 Part 1 para 9 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
Sch. 3 Part 1 para 3 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
reg.11(1) Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
reg.11(2) Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
reg.2 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
reg.11(3) Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
reg.11(4) Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
regs 4(1) and 5(1)-(2) Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
regs 3(6) and 4(7) Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
regs 4(6) and 4A Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
Sch. 4 para 2 and reg 10 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
reg.19(1)(b) Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
reg 19(1)-(3) Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
Sch.3 para. 8(1)-(3) Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
Sch. 3 Part 1 para 6 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2013 SI 2013/386 as amended by reg.3 Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) and Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2013 SI 2013/2070; HB Circular A19/2013.
Sch.3 Part 1 paras 5 and 7 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.
Sch.3 para 4 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.