The Government has started a major programme of welfare reform and if you claim benefits you could be affected.
Some changes have already been introduced, but there are more to come.
Universal Credit is a new welfare benefit that combines and replaces the major working-age income-related benefits: Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Tax Credits and Housing Benefit. It is being introduced gradually across the country and started to be introduced in Kensington and Chelsea in 2015. Find out more.
In April 2016 the law around backdating of Housing Benefit was changed. We can only backdate a Housing Benefit claim for a working age person for a maximum of one month and you have to show a good reason why your claim needs to be backdated. For people of pension age, Housing Benefit can be backdated for three months.
From July 2016, you cannot receive Housing Benefit or Pension Credit, if you go abroad (outside Great Britain) for more than four weeks. 'Great Britain' is England, Scotland and Wales, so absences in the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland or the Channel Islands count as abroad for this purpose. Previously (up until July 2016) you could be absent from Great Britain for up to 13 weeks.
If your absence abroad is in connection with the death of a close relative, or other special reasons, we may be able to extend the period of absence.
You should contact the Council’s Benefits Service on 020 7361 3006 if you are planning to go away and you are getting Housing Benefit.
Benefits limited to the amount for two children
If you have a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017, you will not be able to get the child element of Child Tax Credit for that child. Instead, you will only receive the amount of Child Tax Credit for your children who were born before 6 April 2017.
There are exceptions to this rule, for example, for a multiple birth, a child born as the result of rape, or where there is a Special Guardianship Order.
If you receive Housing Benefit, you will not be awarded the allowance for your third or any subsequent child within the applicable amount, if your Child Tax Credit has been restricted in this way. In practice, your Housing Benefit is unlikely to decrease or increase as a result of this change.
Local Housing Allowance caps
Local Housing Allowance is the name for the Housing Benefit that most tenants who rent from private landlords receive. The Government has placed a cap on the amount of Local Housing Allowance that people can get. Find out more about Local Housing Allowance.
Council Tax Reduction
In 2013 Council Tax Benefit was localised, meaning each local authority designs its own scheme to help people on low income to pay their Council Tax.
At the moment, Kensington and Chelsea's scheme is the same as the old Council Tax Benefit Scheme. This should ensure people receive the same or very similar help to pay their Council Tax as they did under Council Tax Benefit.
Find out more about our Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
If you move house to another local authority area, you may find that your entitlement to Council Tax Reduction is different.
Local Support Payments
In 2013, reforms to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP’s) Social Fund came into effect. The Social Fund is designed to help with living costs that are not covered by your regular benefit payments.
Some parts of the Social Fund are still operated by the DWP. These are Budgeting Loans, Funeral Payments, Sure Start Maternity Grants, Cold Weather Payments and Winter Fuel Payments. Crisis Loans to give you money while you are waiting for your first benefit payment or your first pay in a new job also remain with the DWP, but are now known as Short Term Advances.
Crisis Loans to cover other expenses or situations and Community Care Grants no longer exist. Instead, local authorities may choose to design their own discretionary scheme. The scheme that has been set-up in Kensington and Chelsea is called Local Support Payments.
Housing Benefit: spare bedroom restrictions
If you claim Housing Benefit and you are a council or housing association tenant, you may be affected by this. If you are under Pension Credit age and you have one or more ‘spare’ bedrooms, your Housing Benefit may be reduced. Find out more.
The Benefit Cap
The overall amount of benefit you can receive is capped. The Government adds up how much money you get from a range of benefits, including: Housing Benefit, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit.
The Benefit Cap was reduced in 2016 to £441 per week for a couple or family, and £296 per week for a single person. These figures are for London; lower caps apply outside London.
If the total comes to more than these amounts, your Housing Benefit payments will be reduced.
The council works with tenants affected by the cap, to offer support and advice.
Pensioners receiving Housing Benefit will receive their Housing Benefit through Pension Credit instead of from the Council. This is called Housing Credit. The details of how this will work are still being decided by Government. The Government has not decided exactly when Housing Credit will start, but it is unlikely to be before 2023.
Personal Independence Payment
The Government is replacing Disability Living Allowance for adults of working age with a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment.
If you are over 16 years old, you can no longer make a claim for Disability Living Allowance. Instead, you may be able to claim Personal Independence Payment. You can find out how to do this on the Government's website.
If you already receive Disability Living Allowance, the Government will write to you explaining what will happen and how you can start to claim Personal Independence Payment. Depending on your circumstances, this could be any time in the period 2015 to 2017. You can get an idea of when this is likely to happen from the Government's website.
It is important to respond to this letter when you receive it. If you do not, your benefit will end and you may lose money.
A restriction to the annual increase to benefits
Most working-age benefits are not increased for four years from 2016.
The basic rates of the following benefits are affected:
- Housing Benefit
- Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income Support
- Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Statutory Sick Pay
- Statutory Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Pay
- Maternity Allowance
- Tax Credits
- Child Benefit
This also applies to Universal Credit.
However, the disability and carer elements within these benefits, and the Support Component of ESA, will rise by the rate of inflation.