Important benefit changes

Benefit cap

Overall Benefit Cap (OBC)

There is a limit on the total amount of welfare benefits that working age households can receive and this is called the overall benefit cap (OBC). The cap applies to households in receipt of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit unless exempt.

Former limit

  • For couples, families and single parents, the total amount of specified welfare benefits that could be received was £500 per week.
  • For single people, the total amount of specified welfare benefits that could be received was £350 per week.

Unless you were exempt, if your household received more than the above amount in total for specified welfare benefits, your Housing Benefit payments, or where you were in receipt of Universal Credit, your Universal Credit payments were reduced by the amount that your total benefits exceeded the cap. 

Following the Government’s summer 2015 budget, the cap limits have reduced.  For residents already subject to the benefit cap under the former limits outlined above, the change applied from 7 November 2016.  For residents that will be subject to the benefit cap for the first time due to the reduced limits outlined below, the changes are currently scheduled to apply from 23 January 2017 (or a week either side of this date) based upon the most recent Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advice.

Reduced limit

  • For couples, families and single parents, the total amount of specified welfare benefits that can be received is £442.31 per week
  • For single people the total amount of welfare benefits that can be received is £296.35 per week.

Unless you are exempt, if your household receives more than the above amount in total for specified welfare benefits, your Housing Benefit payments, or where you are in receipt of Universal Credit, your Universal Credit payments will be reduced by the amount that your total benefits exceed the cap. 

Benefit Cap Toolkit

The Benefit Cap Toolkit consolidates information about the changes from a range of Brent Council services and other sources of information into a single document. It comprises both technical information about the changes as well as details of the assistance that is available to residents affected by them. The toolkit may also be provided in an alternative format upon request.

It includes details about the changes affecting Brent Council residents (including relevant statistical data) and the options that they may have in relation to their specific circumstances and how these may be progressed. There are also details of alternative sources of assistance and advice and information for landlords that may be of assistance if they have a tenant or tenants affected by the changes.

The toolkit is intended for use by anyone that is providing advice and information to residents affected by the changes to the Overall Benefit Cap and wishes to know what services may exist to assist them. It is also intended to provide information and advice for access by elected members, landlords and residents alike.

The toolkit will be developed over time in response to experience and feedback. Any comments and suggestions as to how it may be improved would be welcomed. Please contact Brent Customer Services by phone on 020 8937 1800 or email customer.services@brent.gov.uk with details.

Download the Benefit Cap Toolkit 

Appendix 1- documents to accompany the Benefit Cap Toolkit

 

Videos explaining how the new changes to benefit cap may affect you

Two short videos explaining about the changes to the benefit cap and summarising the key information below.  

 

  

Which benefits are counted towards the benefit cap?

 If you receive any of the benefits listed below, the income your household receives from these will count towards the benefit cap.

  • Bereavement allowance
  • Child benefit
  • Child tax credit
  • Employment and support allowance (except where it is paid with the support component)
  • Housing benefit
  • Incapacity benefit
  • Income support
  • Jobseeker's allowance
  • Maternity allowance
  • Severe disablement allowance
  • Widowed parent's allowance
  • Widowed mother's allowance
  • Widow's pension

Are there any exemptions from the benefit cap?

The benefit cap will not apply if you or your partner, as appropriate, qualify for any of the following benefits.

  • Working tax credit (you will need work for at least 16 hours per week if you are a single parent, 24 hours per week between you if you are in a couple with one of you working at least 16 hours per week or 30 hours if you are a single person)
  • Attendance allowance
  • Guardian’s Allowance
  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Disability living allowance*  
  • Personal independence payment*  
  • The support component of main phase employment and support allowance
  • Industrial injuries benefits (and equivalent payments as part of a war disablement pension or the armed forces compensation scheme)
  • War widow or war widower's pension

* Where these payments are made to a child or young person living in your home, the benefit cap will also not apply.

You will also be exempt from the benefit cap if disability living allowance, personal independence payment, attendance allowance or war pension is not currently being paid to you or your partner as appropriate because of being in hospital or care home.

Additionally, the benefit cap will not apply for a period of 39 weeks starting from the day after you or your partner’s last day of work provided that for at least 50 of the 52 weeks prior to the last day of work, you or your partner were engaged in paid work and were not entitled to Job Seekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance or Income Support; and in the last week of work, you or your partner worked at least 16 hours.

For the above conditions, maternity, paternity or adoption leave or receipt of statutory sick pay count as being in work.

What happens if the benefit cap reduces my entitlement to Housing Benefit to nil or less than the minimum amount of Housing Benefit permitted by law of £0.50 per week?

If this situation should occur, you will be treated as being entitled to Housing Benefit of 50 pence per week (i.e. £26.00 per annum).

This will enable you to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) to seek short term assistance with your Housing costs, although awards are only made in certain situations.

How to apply for DHP

What are the options available to me?

Where can I find out further information about the cap?

You can get more information about the cap from:

Calculate your benefit entitlement

A benefit calculator is now available to help you determine whether you may be entitled to Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Support and the potential amount.

If you find that you may be entitled, you will be able to access the benefit claim form directly from the ‘Results’ page of the calculator.

The calculator will also permit you to assess the impact of increasing your working hours and/or pay on your entitlement.

Calculate your benefit entitlement now

Benefit cap questions and answers

What is the benefit cap?

There is currently a limit on the total amount of welfare benefits that working age households can receive and this is called the overall benefit cap (OBC).

The cap applies to households in receipt of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit unless exempt.

Unless you are exempt, if your household receives more than the above amount in total for specified welfare benefits, your Housing Benefit payments, or where you are in receipt of Universal Credit, your Universal Credit payments will be reduced by the amount that your total benefits exceed the cap.

What was the amount of the current benefit cap for the London area?

For couples, families and single parents, the total amount of specified welfare benefits that could be received was capped at £500 per week.

For single people, the total amount of specified welfare benefits that could be received was capped at £350 per week.

What is the new amount of the benefit cap for the London area?

For couples, families and single parents, the total amount of specified welfare benefits that can be received is £442.31 per week.

For single people the total amount of welfare benefits that can be received is £296.35 per week.

Are there different amounts of the cap for areas outside of London?

Yes. You will need to take into account that lower levels of the cap will apply to areas outside of London if you are considering moving to accommodation outside of London.

The levels of the cap for areas outside of London will be £384.62 per week for couples, families and single parents and £257.69 per week for single persons.

When will the new benefit cap apply from?

For residents that were already subject to the benefit capu under the original cap limits, the change applied from 7 November 2016. For residents that will be subject to the benefit cap for the first time due to the reduced limits being applied, the changes are currently scheduled to apply from 23 January 2017 (or a week either side of this date) based upon the most recent Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advice.

What will happen if my Housing Benefit is reduced due to the benefit cap and I can't afford to pay my rent?

This will depend upon your current situation and circumstances. The options most likely to be available to you are:

  • find work to qualify for Working Tax Credit
  • make up any shortfall in your rent from other money received
  • find somewhere more affordable to live or negotiate a rent reduction with your landlord
  • apply for one of the benefits referred that will exempt you from the cap.

What exemptions are there from the cap?

The benefit cap only applies to working-age claimants, not persons of pensionable age.

The cap will also not apply if you or your partner, as appropriate, qualify for:

  • Working Tax Credit (you will need work for at least 16 hours per week if you are a single parent, 24 hours per week between you if you are in a couple with one of you working at least 16 hours per week or 30 hours if you are a single person)
  • Attendance Allowance
  • Guardian’s Allowance
  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Disability living allowance*
  • Personal independence payment*
  • The support component of main phase employment and support allowance
  • Industrial injuries benefits (and equivalent payments as part of a war disablement pension or the armed forces compensation scheme)
  • War widow or war widower's pension.

* Where these payments are made to a child or young person living in your home, the benefit cap will also not apply.

You will also be exempt from the benefit cap if disability living allowance, personal independence payment, attendance allowance or war pension is not currently being paid to you or your partner as appropriate because of being in hospital or care home.

Additionally, the benefit cap will not apply for a period of 39 weeks starting from the day after you or your partner’s last day of work as appropriate and where each of the following three conditions are met.

  • You or your partner has stopped working.
  • For at least 50 of the 52 weeks prior to the last day of work, you or your partner were engaged in paid work and were not entitled to Job Seekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance or Income Support.
  • In the last week of work, you or your partner worked at least 16 hours.

Will I still be exempt from the cap if I receive Housing Benefit and am working the minimum number of hours needed to apply for working tax credit but do not qualify for it?

Yes. Provided that you remain in receipt of Housing Benefit and are working the minimum number of hours per week required to apply for working tax credit, you will be exempt from the cap.

What should I do if my employer pays me less than the National Living Wage?

Advice on what to do in these circumstances can be found on the ACAS website.

How will the number of hours I work be calculated for Working Tax Credit purposes if I have a zero-hours contract?

Where the number of hours you work each week may change, as may occur with a ‘zero’ hours contract, you should contact HMRC for further advice.

What welfare benefits are counted towards the cap?

If you receive any of the benefits listed below, the income your household receives from these will count towards the benefit cap.

  • Bereavement allowance
  • Child benefit
  • Child tax credit
  • Employment and support allowance (except where it is paid with the support component)
  • Housing benefit
  • Incapacity benefit
  • Income support
  • Jobseeker's allowance
  • Maternity allowance
  • Severe disablement allowance
  • Widowed parent's allowance
  • Widowed mother's allowance
  • Widow's pension

If I’m capped and have to move home, how can I find alternative accommodation?

You may wish to discuss this with your landlord in the first instance to determine whether they would be willing to reduce your rent.

If that is not possible, you may need to consider moving to more affordable accommodation.

This could involve moving to a home that is outside of the Brent area.

You can find out the maximum rent that may be paid by Housing Benefit in an area by visiting the Direct Gov LHA rates page and selecting the number of bedrooms you require and the post code or Local Authority area that you are interested in.

If you need further information, please see our housing pages or contact the Housing Options Team: housing.options@brent.gov.uk 020 8937 2000.  

How can I get support and assistance to help me get a job?

Go to our employment and skills pages for help getting into work.

I rent my home from a Housing Association. How will they know whether I am affected by the benefits cap changes?

If you rent your home from a registered Housing Association or other registered social landlord that has agreed to the sharing of data with Brent Council for this purpose, we will let them know if you are affected by the cap. If you rent from Brent Housing Partnership, we will let them know if you are affected by the cap. Details of the Housing Associations that have entered into a data sharing agreement for this purpose are listed in the Benefit Cap Toolkit. 

This will permit your landlord to consider the provision of any appropriate support and advice for you.

Where may I get other assistance?

Please visit the Brent Advice Matters website for benefits, housing and employment advice. For money advice please see our money advice page. Alternatively visit GOV.UK for more information about the benefit cap.

Local Housing Allowance

Local Housing Allowance (LHA)

LHA applies to most private sector accommodation.

However, it excludes for example council and registered housing association lettings, mobile homes, caravans, shared ownership cases, and social accommodation where care, support or supervision is provided.

The LHA considers the location and the size or category of accommodation rather than the rent actually payable for it.

LHA rates take into account the number of bedrooms needed by a claimant and their household up to a maximum of four and are based upon the number of people in your home as set out below.

The LHA rate is set by the Valuation Office Agency and places a cap on the maximum amount of Housing Benefit that claimants can receive.  Please note that this is different to the Overall Benefit Cap which applies to the total of all the welfare benefits which a claimant receives.

In its summer 2015 budget, the Government stated that LHA rates were to be “frozen” for a period of four years from April 2016.  This will mean that the maximum rent that may be payable as Housing Benefit for a relevant property will remain unchanged during that period of time.

How many bedrooms am I entitled to?

The number of bedrooms you need will be based on how many people you have living with you. We do not count other rooms such as a living room, kitchen or bathroom.

You will be assessed as needing one bedroom for each of the following people up to a maximum of four bedrooms.

  • Every adult couple (married or unmarried).
  • Any other adult aged 16 or over.
  • Any two children of the same sex aged under 16.
  • Any two children aged under 10.
  • Any other child.

An extra bedroom may be included for the following people but only up to the maximum limit of four as outlined above.

  • A foster parent with or without a placed child.
  • A disabled child who needs their own room.
  • A non resident carer providing regular overnight care.
  • A child that was previously a non-dependant and who is away on armed forces duty and intends to return to your home afterwards.

What If I have more than 4 bedrooms?

If you make a new application for LHA or change your address and are assessed as needing more than 4 bedrooms for the occupants of your home, you will have your Housing Benefit restricted to the 4 bedroom rate.

Are there any exceptions to these rules?

If you are a single person under 35 years of age, you will always receive the shared room rate for LHA purposes regardless of the property you actually occupy.

If you claim Housing Benefit, you can only get it for yourself and your family.  If you have another adult living with you, on a non commercial basis, your benefit may be reduced.

If you are a joint tenant, this may affect the amount of Housing Benefit you get as your benefit will be calculated based upon your share only.

Calculate your benefit entitlement

A benefit calculator is now available to help you determine whether you may be entitled to Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Support and the potential amount.

If you find that you may be entitled, you will be able to access the benefit claim form directly from the ‘Results’ page of the calculator.

The calculator will also permit you to assess the impact of increasing your working hours and/or pay on your entitlement.

Calculate your benefit entitlement now

Local Welfare Assistance (LWA)

Local Welfare Assistance (LWA) is a discretionary support scheme. LWA payments may be made to help residents who do not have an alternative means of paying for what they need.

The payments are intended to meet one-off needs rather than on-going expenses and are aimed at helping:

  • people in short-term need because of a crisis or emergency
  • support vulnerable people in the community
  • ease exceptional pressure on families.

View further information about Local Welfare Assistance.

Bedroom Tax

Bedroom Tax - Social Sector (Council and Housing Association properties)

Housing benefit has changed for people who rent from the council, a registered housing association or a registered social landlord.

Working age customers who have more bedrooms in their property than they need, according to the size criteria, will have their housing benefit reduced.

This could affect you:

  • if you are 16 to 61 years old
  • even if you only get a small amount of housing benefit – for example if you are working
  • even if you are sick or disabled.

You won’t be affected if:

  • you live in a one bedroom flat or bedsit, or if
  • you or your partner is old enough to receive pension credits. 

Housing benefit will be restricted for some people who are living in a property that is larger than their household needs.

The number of rooms needed will be based on the size of a claimant’s household.

The new rules allow one bedroom for:

  • every adult couple (married or unmarried)
  • any other adult aged 16 or over
  • any two children of the same sex aged under 16
  • any two children aged under 10
  • any other child
  • a carer (or team of carers) who do not live with you but provide you or your partner with overnight care.

What this means for you

If you're assessed as having more bedrooms than you need your housing benefit will be reduced by:

  • 14 per cent if you have one extra bedroom
  • 25 per cent if you have two or more extra bedrooms

What can you do?

You can:

  • talk to your landlord about transferring to a smaller home or taking in a lodger
  • contact the us to ask about extra financial help. Councils have a limited amount of money available to make discretionary payments towards housing costs
  • try to find some paid work to increase your income
  • make sure you are claiming all the benefits you can, for example, money to help with the costs of a disability.

Calculate your benefit entitlement

A benefit calculator is now available to help you determine whether you may be entitled to Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Support and the potential amount.

If you find that you may be entitled, you will be able to access the benefit claim form directly from the ‘Results’ page of the calculator.

The calculator will also permit you to assess the impact of increasing your working hours and/or pay on your entitlement.

Calculate your benefit entitlement now