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 cap 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: 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.