New guides to housing benefit & universal credit housing costs


Shelter and the Chartered Institute of Housing have published updated editions of their guides to housing benefit and the housing element of universal credit.

Regular readers will have noticed that every so often I'm reviewing books on the blog. I'm doing this because I've noticed something when visiting organisations. Sometimes staff don't have the reference materials they need to do their job. And even when books are on the shelf, they're not always put to good use.

Checking the legislation and using it when we can to our client's advantage is second nature for those of us who've worked in the advice sector. However all too often I talk to housing officers and support workers who don't appear to recognise that checking legislation is an essential part of our daily job.

When I'm training I therefore try to encourage attendees to educate themselves by using the many reference materials out there. If we want to be effective - not to mention progress professionally - we need to get in the habit of looking things up when we're unsure of something.

I'm hoping the book reviews highlight some of the best resources for housing advisors who aren't already using them.

Front cover of Help with Housing Costs Volume 1


With the current transition from HB to UC housing advisers certainly have their work cut out when it comes to understanding the payment of housing-related benefits. Staff now have two sets of rules to apply.

Thankfully Shelter and CIOH publish these guides by Sam Lister and Martin Ward. The first deals with universal credit housing costs while the second volume covers housing benefit. They can either be purchased separately or together, in which case you get a significant discount.

Many will be familiar with the HB guide, as it's been a staple reference book for many years.

This review will therefore concentrate on Volume 1 which deals with the housing costs element of UC.

Well, it doesn't actually just do that. Because for those of us who are new to UC there are a couple of introductory chapters that provide invaluable advice on basic issues such as:

  • Migration from legacy benefits to UC.
  • Who can claim UC and the conditions for entitlement.
  • Defective claims and how they can be completed.
  • The rules governing assessment periods, waiting days, backdating and appealing negative decisions.

There are then chapters explaining the rules governing payment of the housing costs element of UC. Issues covered include:

  • How much of the rent is eligible for UC housing costs.
  • What types of temporary accommodation are exempt from UC and will continue to attract entitlement to HB.
  • Simultaneous payments for two homes.
  • Entitlement for 18 to 21 year olds.

A separate chapter summarises the rules for owner-occupiers and 'shared owners' subject to the new loan payments for mortgage interest which came into force on 6 April 2018. There are also chapters covering council tax rebate, migrants, recent arrivals and EEA nationals.

In addition there are appendices which detail the relevant legislation, weekly benefit rates and proposed start dates for full service implementation in different job centre areas.

Clear and uncluttered

One of the big selling points of these two volumes is just how clear and uncluttered the text is. You don't even get footnote numbers in the text to distract you (although there are references to the legislation and case law if you need them).

Which helps ensure the books are genuinely suitable for non-specialists and claimants. In short, an excellent resource which will provide the answers you need.


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