The Housing Benefit Regulations
Housing benefit is available to help people on low income with their rent, and many millions of tenants in both public sector housing and also in the private rented sector currently receive help in this way. The original housing benefit system was introduced in the early 1980s, and was most recently revised in 2008 following the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006. Since 7th April 2008, two slightly different housing benefit systems have been operated in conjunction, in order to allow an orderly transition between the old system and the newly implemented system.
Claimants who claimed housing benefit before April 2008; housing association tenants and other claimants living in social housing are paid Rent Allowance (RA). Under the RA system, tenants with similar housing needs receive different rent levels within the same local area, and also often receive different standards of accommodation.
However, where housing benefit is claimed after April 2008, if the landlord is in private sector housing the claimant will receive Local Housing Allowance (LHA). The LHA system is designed to provide a fairer and simpler system to pay housing costs for private sector lettings, by standardising the housing allowance that is payable within the same local area. These two systems have run on in parallel for a transitional period, and the Department for Work and Pensions has not yet defined how long the RA system will continue to operate. In this factsheet, rules specific to Rent Allowance will be indicated as RA, and those relating to the Local Housing Allowance will be shown to be LHA. Where the rules are the same for both schemes, a reference to ‘housing benefit’ refers to both.
The Government have announced major changes to simplify the current benefits system. A benefits cap has been introduced to ensure that the majority of families do not receive an income of more than the average working family and a further proposal is to implement a single payment benefit to replace certain existing benefits, including housing benefit. See ‘Welfare Reform Act 2012’ below.
Although all new claims for housing benefit for the majority of private sector lettings will be processed under the new LHA system, existing claims started before 7th April 2008 continue to run on under the previous RA system. Under the RA system, when assessing a housing benefit claim, local authorities had to refer all claims to the Rent Officer, who then used local knowledge or visits to the property to determine the appropriate level of RA payment to be made to the claimant.
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