If you are awarded housing benefit under the local housing allowance (LHA) scheme, you will usually have the right to choose whether you want the allowance to be paid to you or directly to your landlord.
How housing benefit is paid
Usually, private tenants are asked to pay their rent at the beginning of the month. This can cause difficulties for people who receive housing benefit to help meet their housing costs as housing benefit is paid every 4 weeks, rather than once a month and housing benefit is always paid in arrears.
This means that you will receive 13 payments of housing benefit in a year to cover 12 monthly rental payments, so you may be required to do some budgeting to ensure that your rent payments are up to date. It also means that you may need to save up some extra money to pay your first month's rent or apply for a loan from the Discretionary Finance Support Fund to help you with this payment as your housing benefit will not be paid until you've been living in the property for 4 weeks.
The Housing Executive should process your claim within 14 days of receiving all the necessary paperwork. If the Housing Executive hasn't made a decision by the end of these 14 days, ask for an interim payment.
Changing your payment date
The Housing Executive can't change its payment procedures to suit individual tenants. You'll never be able to get your housing benefit for the month at the start of the month. Some landlords may be happy to change how they charge you for rent to fit with the Housing Executive's system for paying housing benefit. If your landlord agrees to accept rent in arrears or on a 4 weekly basis, make sure you get this in writing and ask for your tenancy agreement to be altered to reflect this change.
If you're receiving housing benefit to help with your housing costs and you decide to end your tenancy, contact the Housing Executive to find out when you should cancel or amend your housing benefit claim. Otherwise you or your landlord may receive an overpayment of housing benefit, which will have to be paid back.
Paying housing benefit to tenant or landlord
Payments will normally be made to yourself as the tenant, except under the following circumstances:
- you request or consent to payments being made to the landlord
- payment to the landlord is in the interest of you or your family
- you are six or more weeks in rent arrears
- you are vulnerable or unable to act for yourself
- a direct deduction for rent is being made from your Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance
- there are outstanding benefits after the death of the claimant.
The Housing Executive will usually pay housing benefit directly to your or your landlord's bank or building society account or, if that is not possible, payments will be made by cheque.
What happens if the rent is less than the LHA rate?
You won't get more housing benefit than you pay in rent. If your weekly rent is lower than the maximum LHA rate, the Housing Executive will just pay you enough to cover your rent.
Can I get a 'top-up' if the housing benefit doesn't cover my rent?
You will not be automativally given a 'top-up' or extra benefit if your rent is higher than the local housing allowance awarded to you. If you take up a tenancy in accommodation with a rent higher than the rate of your LHA, you will have to make up the shortfall yourself, but you can apply for a discretionary housing payment.
If you are worried about being able to afford the rent on your home, you should seek advice.
Challenging housing benefit decisions
You can challenge housing benefit decisions made under LHA rules in the same way you would challenge other housing benefit claims. Start by asking the Housing Executive to look at the figures a second time. This is known as reconsideration. You must ask for this within 4 weeks of the receipt of the decision letter. If this fails, you can appeal to an independent tribunal.
Most housing benefit decisions can be challenged this way, including a decision to pay or not to pay housing benefit directly to the landlord. However, some decisions, such as the level of LHA rates, cannot be appealed.
Contact an advice agency if you're having difficulties with challenging housing benefit decisions.