Only getting 50% covered?

If only 50% of your rent is being covered by the Housing Costs Element

It’s a good idea to check your online account regularly, including checking the breakdown of your Universal Credit award each month.

If you find that the amount of your Housing Cost Element is only half the amount you are paying in rent (your rent liability), you need to find out why this is and get it sorted.

The usual reason is that you are a joint tenant with someone who is not your partner. Therefore the UC system assumes you are only liable to pay half your rent – with the joint tenant being responsible for the other half.

If you do have a joint tenancy with someone other than a partner and they are living in the property with you, then this would be correct.

However, sometimes you may still have a joint tenancy with someone who has permanently moved out of the property.

The DWP call this person a ‘absent tenant’, and may refer to your tenancy as an ‘untidy tenancy’ because the names of the people responsible for paying the rent don’t match with the people who are actually paying it.

In such cases – as long as you explain the situation to the DWP – the amount of your Housing Costs Element can be increased to be based on the full rent.

And the DWP should not insist that your tenancy is changed to a sole tenancy – there are often reasons why this can’t be done.

However, we also know that the DWP don’t always agree and sometimes continue to base the Housing Cost Element on only 50% of the rent.

Sasha lives in a two bedroom house with her daughter. The tenancy is in joint names with her ex-partner Rick who doesn’t live there any more. Sasha made a claim for Universal Credit when her daughter turned 5. She’d been on it for a few months but is struggling to manage. She mentions this to her Housing Officer who looks at her last payment breakdown and spots that the Housing Costs Element included in her award is only half of her rent. Her Housing Officer helps her put a message on her journal explaining that Rick is an ‘absent tenant; and that she has an ‘untidy tenancy’ – that she is liable to pay the full 100% of her rent, that Rick hasn’t lived in the property for years nor paid any of the rent since he left. Her Universal Credit award gets reassessed and she gets a large back payment.

What can I do?

Once the DWP know that you are liable for 100% of the rent they can change the Housing Cost Element, and should pay back any Universal Credit you have not been paid for past months where they based it on 50% of the rent.

So you need to explain your circumstances to your Work Coach. It may be best to contact a Benefits Adviser who will be able to give you the correct wording for your journal to get this sorted out.

Warning! Sometimes the DWP will adjust the Housing Cost Element only to change it back the following month! So keep an eye on those award breakdowns in your online account.

The DWP have agreed to base my Housing Costs Element on 100% of the rent but have refused the back pay – is there anything I can do?

If you were making a new claim for Universal Credit, and this is less than 13 months ago, then the DWP should award the back pay. Write a note on your journal explaining that you had a ‘untidy tenancy’ when you made your claim for Universal Credit so this is not a change in your circumstances and therefore their decision to back pay falls under the ‘any grounds’ revision rules. Add that these allow you to explain better what your circumstances were on the date of your claim. That the DWP can change their initial decision to take these into account. If you made your claim for Universal Credit more than two months ago you will also have to explain why you are only now asking for the back pay.

If you would struggle to do any of this then ask ask your Housing Officer or a Benefits Adviser for help.

But I’m not a joint tenant – what could be the reason?

If the amount of the Housing Costs Element included in your award is less than you were expecting, you should speak to a Benefits Adviser who will help you find out why.