If you are remanded in custody and were renting your home before you went to prison, you may be able to get help with paying your rent for up to 52 weeks. Remanded prisoners who are currently serving a sentence for a different offence may also be entitled to some housing benefit. You need to fill in a claim form if you're not currently getting housing benefit, or write to the Housing Executive to let them know that your circumstances have changed if you have a current claim.
Claiming housing benefit
Housing benefit is available to Housing Executive, housing association and private tenants. Don’t be confused if you are told you need to apply for Local Housing Allowance – this is just a different way of calculating housing benefit for certain tenants in the private rented sector. You will usually be able to claim housing benefit if you have to pay rent or rates, have savings or capital worth less than £16,000 and you're normally resident in Northern Ireland.
Housing benefit for remanded or sentenced prisoners
If you are eligible for housing benefit, you might be able to get help for some of the time that you are in prison. If you're on remand, you can get housing benefit for a maximum of 52 weeks. If you're likely to be remanded for longer than 52 weeks, you won't be entitled to any housing benefit. Sentenced prisoners will only be entitled to housing benefit if the total time that they spend in prison is less than 13 weeks.
Sometimes people think you're entitled to housing benefit for the first 13 weeks of your sentence, but this is wrong. The Housing Executive will look at the total amount of time you're going to spend in prison, including any time you've spent on remand. If you are going to be in prison for even a day over 13 weeks, you won't get any housing benefit at all.
Getting help to apply
The prison Housing Advice Development Worker or the Offender Management Unit will be able to help you make a housing benefit claim. If you think you may be eligible for housing benefit, claim as soon as you can. If you were getting housing benefit before you went to prison, you must notify the Housing Executive of the change of circumstances. You will need to notify the Housing Executive again if you are sentenced. Getting a sentence can change your right to claim housing benefit.
Not entitled to housing benefit
If you're going to be in prison for more than 13 weeks you probably won't get any housing benefit to help with your rent. If you want to keep your home, you'll have to think of some other way to manage paying the rent while you're in prison. You could see if your landlord will allow you to nominate someone to live in the property and pay rent while you're in prison. Depending on the circumstances, the person you nominate might be able to claim housing benefit for the property.
Housing benefit for nominated persons
The Housing Executive, housing associations and private landlords will sometimes allow a tenant who is going into prison to nominate someone else to live in that property while they are in prison. This nominated person will be responsible for paying the rent on the property, but will not always be allowed to claim housing benefit. A nominated person can normally only claim housing benefit for the property if he or she was living with you at that property before you went into prison.
If you've been given permission for a nominated person to live in your home while you're in prison, speak to a prison housing adviser to work out if that person can claim housing benefit.