Universal credit after a joint tenant or partner leaves

How universal credit can help following a relationship breakdown or when a joint tenant leaves the home.

Updated October 2022

Universal credit and complex housing situations

Advisers often encounter people in complex housing situations, for example where a relationship breaks down or a joint tenant leaves the home.

Claimants might be placed in a difficult position as the help that universal credit (UC) provides doesn’t match their liability for the rent. These claimants might need to ask for their claim to be calculated differently.

A claimant's options depend on whether they are liable to pay for housing costs. A tenant is usually liable to pay for housing costs. Someone living in a property but not on the tenancy might not be liable.

Universal credit for housing costs

Payments of universal credit are made up of a standard allowance and additional elements. The amount of the standard allowance depends on the age of the claimant and whether they are a single person or part of a couple.

The additional elements depend on the personal circumstances of the claimant. Housing costs is an additional element. It is intended to help pay for accommodation, including rent or service charges. One of the conditions for payment of this element is that the claimant must be liable to pay housing costs.

Where a person is not liable to pay housing costs, they can be treated as liable in some circumstances by universal credit regulations. For example, when the person liable to pay leaves the property and the remaining occupier needs to make payments to keep the accommodation.

Find out more about how universal credit is calculated on Shelter Legal.

When the claimant is liable to pay rent

A tenant is usually liable for rent payments. Two or more joint tenants are jointly and severally liable. Each tenant is effectively liable for the entire amount the landlord can demand full rent from any joint tenant.

The same rule does not apply for universal credit payments. Where a universal credit claimant is a joint tenant the housing costs element of their claim is capped to the total rent divided equally between all the joint tenants. For example, if a claimant is one of two joint tenants they would be assessed as liable for half the rent. This applies to private and social tenants.

When a joint tenant leaves

This rule can cause considerable difficulties, for example when a claimant's joint tenant moves out and stops paying the rent.

Under the tenancy the remaining tenant is liable to pay the landlord the full rent, but they only receive a portion of the housing costs from universal credit. The DWP refers to these situations as 'untidy tenancies'.

The DWP can allocate rent differently if the usual apportionment is unreasonable. Claimants who must pay the full rent after a joint tenant leaves can ask the DWP to use its discretion and base the assessment on the full housing costs. Claimants should put their request in writing. The DWP has advised its staff on this issue.

When the claimant is not liable to pay rent

Some claimants are not liable to pay rent. For example, a person not on the tenancy agreement living with their partner.

Claimants in this situation can qualify for housing cost payments if they are treated as liable under the universal credit regulations. This means they can receive help with housing costs where the person liable for rent is not making payments.

When the person liable to pay rent leaves

A claimant is eligible for the housing costs element if:

  1. the person liable to make payments is not doing so

  2. the claimant has to make payments to remain in the accommodation

  3. it is unreasonable to expect the claimant to make other arrangements

  4. it is reasonable to treat the claimant as liable to make the payments

This can help someone keep accommodation. For example, where a sole tenant has left and their partner needs to keep up with rent so they can remain in the property. A landlord might start eviction proceedings if arrears accrue.

This rule is not limited to cases of relationship breakdown. For example, if a sole tenant is sent to prison, another adult in the household could be treated as liable.

Further resources

Shelter Legal

Universal credit claims process - how people can claim universal credit

Universal credit housing costs element liability condition - who is eligible for the universal credit housing costs element

Joint tenancies - what is a joint tenancy, and the right and responsibilities of the tenants

Relationship breakdown - how a relationship breakdown affects a tenancy

About the author

Elliot Kent is a legal adviser and supervisor at Shelter. Elliot specialises in welfare benefits.