The HB family premium: new claims, new problems

Issue 254 (October 2016)

Barbara Donegan describes some fine but important details regarding continuing entitlement to the family premium in housing benefit (HB).

Introduction

Since 1 May 2016, new claims for HB do not include a family premium in the applicable amount. Existing HB claimants who become responsible for a child or qualifying young person for the first time on or after this date do not qualify for the premium either. If an existing claimant stops being responsible for any children or qualifying young people (and, as a result, loses the family premium), it cannot be regained, even if that claimant later becomes responsible for another child or qualifying young person.1

The Housing Benefit (Abolition of the Family Premium and date of claim) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, No.1857 are the relevant regulations. Despite the bland title, they have the potential to cut entitlement in ways which the average claimant would probably find baffling and unexpected. In essence, where the premium was already included before 1 May, it can continue; but it is lost on any new claim for HB on or after that date.2

New claims

‘New claim’, it turns out, has a wider meaning than might at first appear. Those affected include claimants who have just moved from another local authority where they were getting HB – eg, having been rehoused because of domestic abuse. Someone recently bereaved whose partner had been the HB claimant would be affected. Those starting a job whose earnings lift them off HB will find if they later have to reclaim that they have now lost the family premium for good.

Losing a ‘passporting’ benefit of itself won’t remove the family premium so long as some HB continues in payment: entitlement to the passporting benefit simply provides a disregard for income and capital, and does not affect the structure of a claimant’s applicable amount.

‘Swapping’ claimant

Of particular interest to advisers will be those claimants who – as a result of a 'better-off' calculation – might traditionally have been advised to ‘swap claims’ in order to maximise the benefit. (There are no ‘couple claims’ for HB.3) This often arises where one member of a couple gets employment and support allowance (ESA). If the ESA claimant were the HB claimant, no disability premium would be paid. Couples may be advised to swap the HB claimant in order to maximise the amount of HB payable therefore. Although in the short term this can increase the amount of HB payable, it now means that since a new claim for HB has been made, the family premium is lost. If the family is on a means-tested benefit and is passported to maximum HB, this may be a loss it is willing to consider. It is, however, something that advisers will wish to evaluate as part of ‘better-off’ calculations.

 


 

Please be aware that welfare rights law and guidance change frequently. Older Bulletin articles may be out of date. Use keywords or the search function to find more recent material on this topic.

  • 1. Reg 2 Housing Benefit (Abolition of the Family Premium and date of claim) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, No.1857 (‘the abolition regulations’)
  • 2. Reg 4 the abolition regulations
  • 3. Reg 82(1) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006, No.213; reg 63(1) Housing Benefit (Persons who have attained the qualifying age for state pension credit) Regulations 2006, No.214; CH/3817/2004; CH/3622/2006