Changes in the law last year prevented most new migrants from Europe being able to claim Housing Benefit or Job Seekers Allowance. However, an important exception was given for people who were already claiming benefits on the date that the changes came in. Although new arrivals could no longer make claims, people who were receiving Housing Benefit and JSA on the 31st March 2015 were generally protected and could continue to claim. In November last year though, the government brought in a further restriction. People in this protected group had to prove they had a realistic prospect of actually finding work if they were to continue to receive benefits. Although this rule has been in place for some time, it has been implemented slowly. We are now seeing affected claimants in Sandwell being asked to attend interviews where if they fail to convince the Job Centre that they are likely to soon be in ‘genuine and effective’ employment,’ their benefits including Housing Benefit will stop. Landlords (and advice workers) should be aware that this process is taking place now and that some well established tenants who have relied on Housing Benefit up to now, will no longer qualify. As usual, this post is only a very brief summary of some quite complex rules. More information is available on gov.uk.
Last April saw major rule changes which stopped most people from the European Economic Area,’ (EEA) from claiming Housing Benefit. We are still getting queries from landlords and tenants about these.
Some of the main points are set out below, but this is a complex area and this post is certainly not intended as a full guide. There are links to the appropriate pages on the main government website gov.uk and the Department of Work and pensions where necessary. The important thing is that if anyone is any doubt before accepting or offering a tenancy, they get the right advice first.
- The EEA includes all European Union countries, plus some non-member countries. If in doubt, check this list. Although Ireland is in the EEA, different rules apply to Irish citizens who normally have the same rights as UK citizens.
- Most unemployed EEA nationals making new claims from the 1st April 2014 onwards are not entitled to Housing Benefit.
- EEA nationals who work (including the self-employed) and have earnings of at least £154 per week and have done so for the previous 3 months can normally still claim Housing Benefit. A full explanation of these rules is here.
- An EEA national who works but gets made redundant may sometimes still be eligible for Housing Benefit although this is not automatic.
- An EEA national who was already receiving Housing Benefit on the 31st March 2014 will continue to receive it, but if their claim stops and they re-apply, they may be refused, as they are making a new claim.
- If someone changes address within the same borough and reapplies immediately so that their claim is continuous; they can continue to claim, but if they move from one local authority to another, it is considered as a new claim and if they are not covered by an exemption, they can be refused Housing Benefit.
- There is no connection between the Home Office ‘Right to Rent’ rules and benefit rules. Right to Rent is simply about whether someone is legally in the UK and has nothing to do with benefits.
- The old connection between benefits like Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and Housing Benefit where being entitled to JSA meant that as long as you paid rent you were normally entitled to Housing Benefit no longer exists. EEA migrants can still get JSA without being entitled to Housing Benefit.
- There is no link between entitlement to tax credits and Housing Benefit. Being entitled to Tax Credits does not mean you are entitled to Housing Benefit.