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Help with your rates

What is Housing Benefit for rates and Rate Relief

Housing Benefit for rates is a benefit for people on a low income to help them pay their rates.

If you're a tenant, your Housing Benefit for rates is paid by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. If you are an owner occupier, your Housing Benefit for rates is paid by the housing benefit central unit of The Land and Property Services (formerly known as the Rate Collection Agency).

Rate Relief is additional help for people on a low income who are:

  • not entitled to full Housing Benefit for rates, or
  • just outside the income limit for Housing Benefit for rates.

When you claim Housing Benefit for rates, you will automatically be assessed for Rate Relief if you aren't entitled to Housing Benefit for rates.

If you are entitled to Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief, your rates bill is reduced. Remember to check that you are paying the right amount of rates - that you are getting any discounts due, for example, because you are disabled or a full-time student.

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Who can get Housing Benefit for rates and Rate Relief

If you have to pay rates, you can claim Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief as long as your capital and income are low enough. If you live with your partner, only one of you can claim Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief and your income and capital will be assessed together. This includes lesbian and gay partners as well as heterosexual partners. It applies whether you are living together as a couple, are married or are in a civil partnership.

Capital means anything which could provide you with an income, for example, savings, property or land.

You must be living in Northern Ireland to claim Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief. If you are from overseas or have recently come to live in Northern Ireland, you may have difficulty claiming the benefit, depending on your immigration status.

If you are not sure about your right to claim benefit, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Students and Housing Benefit for Rates or Rate Relief

Special rules apply to students. Most full time students cannot receive Housing Benefit for Rates or Rate Relief, but there are some exceptions:

  • If you are receiving Income Support, Income Based Jobseekers Allowance or Income Related Employment & Support Allowance
  • If you have dependent children and your partner is also a full time student
  • If you are a lone parent responsible for a child or young person.
  • If you are a are single claimant with responsibility for a foster child
  • If you are a part-time student
  • If you are under 21 and began or enrolled on your course (such as ‘A’ levels or NVQs but not degree courses) before the age of 19
  • If you are under 20 on approved training which you began or were accepted or enrolled on before the age of 19
  • If you or your partner is over state Pension Credit age
  • If you have a disability, including being deaf or blind
  • If you are absent due to caring responsibilities or illness with the prior approval of the college attended
  • If you are, or are treated as, either incapable of work, or as having a limited capability for work for a continuous period of not less than 196 days. You should make a claim for ESA to trigger the capability for work test

If you are an owner occupier you should apply to Land and Property Services for rate relief. See www.dfpni.gov.uk/lps.

If you rent your property and are responsible for the rates you should apply to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. See www.nihe.gov.uk.

For further information, see the NIHE website www.nihe.gov.uk.

The Education, Training and Leaving Care Rate Relief scheme

The Education, Training and Leaving Care (ETLC) rate relief scheme closed on 1st December 2009. If you already receive ETLC relief it will continue to apply for up to three years from 1st December 2009. For further information see www.nihe.gov.uk.

If you are a student and you want to claim Housing Benefit for Rates or Rate Relief, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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How much Housing Benefit or Rate Relief can you get

If you get Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or the guarantee credit of Pension Credit

If you get Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or the guarantee credit of Pension Credit, your Housing Benefit for rates will cover the whole of your rates bill and you will have nothing to pay.

However, if there are other adults living in your home, a deduction may be made from your Housing Benefit for rates. This is called a 'non-dependant' deduction and the amount depends on the circumstances of the other adult (the ‘non-dependant’). A non-dependant deduction might apply, for example, if you have an elderly relative or an adult son or daughter living with you. Some people who are ‘non-dependants’ will still not lead to a deduction in your Housing Benefit for rates because of their personal circumstances, for example, if they are getting Pension Credit. If the other adult is your partner, your landlord, or a joint owner, tenant or lodger, they do not count as a 'non-dependant' and the deduction will not apply.

If you have a non-dependant adult living in your home and you want to know how this will affect your Housing Benefit for rates, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

If you do not already get low income benefits

If you don't get Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or the guarantee credit of Pension Credit, you may still be able to claim Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief.

You will not be able to get any Housing Benefit for rates if you have capital (savings or property) worth over £16,000. However if you are over 60, you may still qualify for Rate Relief if your savings are less than £50,000.

If you have capital over £6,000, you will be assumed to have some income from that capital and this will reduce the amount of Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief you can get.

The amount of Housing Benefit or rate relief you get will also depend on your income. The income you can have before it reduces your Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief depends on your circumstances, for example:

  • whether you have a partner or children
  • whether you are disabled
  • whether you care or care for a disabled person.

If you get the savings credit part of Pension Credit, the Land and Property Services will use the same figures for your income and capital as the Pension Service when they work out your Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief.

If you want to know more about how Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief is calculated, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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How to claim Housing Benefit for rates and Rate Relief

Written claims if you are claiming Income Support or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance

When you claim Income Support or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance at the local Jobs and Benefits office, you are given a claim form for Housing Benefit for rates and Rate Relief at the same time. Or you can obtain a claim form from The Land and Property services. You should keep a copy of any claim form you complete.

If you are already getting Income Support or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance and you have to start paying rates, you can ask for a claim form at the Jobs and Benefits office or from your local Land and Property Services office.

Written claims if you are claiming Pension Credit

If you make a claim for Pension Credit, you can ask the Pension Service to send you a claim form at the same time. Alternatively you can just claim directly from your local Land and Property Services office.

If you're getting Pension Credit and you start having to pay rates, you should get a claim form from your local Land and Property Services office or your local Jobs and Benefits office. In any case, The Land and Property Services should use the same income and capital figures to work out your Housing Benefit for rates or Rate relief as the Pension Service use to work out your Pension Credit.

If you are 60 or over and you claim Pension Credit when you are already getting Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief, the Pension Service will pass your details on to The Land and Property Services. This is so that The Land and Property Services can use the Pension Service figures for your income and capital to recalculate your Housing benefit for rates and Rate Relief.

Written claims if you are not already getting low income benefits

If you are not already getting Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Pension Credit, you should claim Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief direct from your local Land and Property Services office. You should ask the claim to be dated from the day you asked for it. If you think you should have got it before you made your claim, see under the heading Getting Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief backdated.

You should answer all the questions on the claim form which apply to you, including details of your personal circumstances, your income and your savings. You should keep a copy of the claim form.

Telephone claims

If you claim Pension Credit by telephone from the Pension Service, you can claim Housing Benefit for rates and Rate Relief at the same time. Once you've claimed Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief by telephone, the form will be posted to you to check all the information is correct and to obtain your signature.

Information to support your claim

When you apply for Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief, you will have to provide your national insurance (NI) number. If you don’t know your NI number, but you think you have one, try to provide information that will help The Land and Property Services office find your number. If you do not have a NI number, you will have to apply for one. To show that your number belongs to you, or to apply for a number, you will also have to provide evidence of your identity, for example, a birth certificate.

If you are not on Income Support, income based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Pension Credit, you will have to provide evidence of your income and capital, for example, a savings book or wage slips.

For information on how to apply for a national insurance number, see National insurance – contributions and benefits.

If you have problems applying for a national insurance number or proving your identity, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB

Getting Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief backdated

You may be able to get some Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief for a period before you make your claim if you could have claimed earlier. Getting benefit for a period before you claim is called ‘backdating’. You can get backdated Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief for up to 52 weeks if you can show you have a good reason for not claiming earlier, for example, you were given wrong advice. You will not usually get any backdated benefit just because you did not know that you could make a claim. From 6 October, the time limit for claiming backdated Housing Benefit will be shortened to six months.

The rules are different if you or your partner are 60 or over, and you are not getting Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance. In this case, you do not have to give any reasons and Housing benefit or Rate Relief can be backdated automatically as long as you can show that you were entitled to it. On 6 October 2008, the time limit for claiming backdated benefit will be shortened from twelve months to three months.

You also have to show that you were entitled to Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief throughout the period of backdating – that you were responsible for paying rates and your income was low enough.

You should explain on your claim form that you want to claim benefit from an earlier date, and give your reasons for failing to claim earlier (if you need to).

If you want to claim backdated Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Checks on Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief, change of circumstances and fraud

You may commit benefit fraud if you deliberately give incorrect or misleading information when you apply for Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief, or fail to report a change of circumstances. Even if you are not committing fraud, you can cause an overpayment which will have to be repaid. Your circumstances can be checked at any time while you are claiming and fraud officers can also get information about you from other government agencies and from your employer, bank or utility companies. Benefit fraud is a criminal offence and you can be prosecuted or asked to pay a penalty. Your benefit may be reduced if you are convicted more than once.

If you are worried about whether you might be suspected of fraud, you are under investigation or you have been convicted, or if you have been asked to repay an overpayment of benefit, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens’ Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Making a decision on your claim

When they receive your claim, The Land and Property Services will decide whether you are entitled to Housing Benefit for rates and/or Rate Relief and if so, how much you can be awarded. They may ask you for more information before making a decision. If you are not entitled to Housing Benefit for rates, The Land and Property Services will automatically check whether you are entitled to Rate Relief.

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How is Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief paid

Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief is paid by reducing the amount of rates you have to pay. The reduction will be shown on your rates bill. If you have already paid your rates bill, a refund can be paid directly to you, but you will have to ask for this. Otherwise your Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief will be credited against your rates bill for the next financial year.

For more information about how benefit is paid, see Payment of benefits and tax credits.

If you have any problems with the way your Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief is paid, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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How long is Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief paid for

Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief can continue to be paid for as long as you are entitled to it. However, if you move house, you will have to stop your claim and make a new claim to The Land and Property Services. You must also report any relevant changes of circumstances which might affect your benefit or rebate. If you do not report these changes, you may not get all the benefit you are entitled to, or you may be paid too much benefit (an overpayment) which will have to be paid back later. You may even be investigated for fraud - see under the heading Checks on Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief, change of circumstances and fraud.

If you get Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance

Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief can continue to be paid indefinitely while you are on Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance. You should report any relevant changes of circumstances which might affect your benefit or the amount you get, for example, if your partner leaves, you have a new child, or you move address. If you do not report these changes, you may not get all the benefit you are entitled to, or you may be paid too much benefit (an overpayment) which will have to be paid back later.

However, if you stop getting one of these benefits because you (or your partner) get a job or your hours or wages increase, you may be able to carry on getting Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief at the same rate for a further four weeks. This is called an extended payment. You can only get an extended payment if your Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief claim has ended. This means that if you claim an extended payment and you then want to claim Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief when you are in work, you will have to make a new claim.

If you don’t claim an extended payment (for example, because you have not been on qualifying benefits for long enough), you do not have to make a new claim for Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief, but you should report your increase in hours or wages as a change in circumstances.

For more information about extended payments of Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief, see Benefits and tax credits for people in work.

If you are already getting other low income benefits or benefits because you are sick or disabled

If you aren't getting Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance, payment of Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief can continue indefinitely. You should tell The Land and Property Services about any changes of circumstances which could affect your benefit, for example, a change in the people who live with you, or a change in your income or capital. If you move, you must report your new address.

If you get Pension Credit, you can report some changes in circumstances to the Pension Service, who will pass the information on to The Land and Property Services. This is because your Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief is based on the Pension Service figures for your income and capital. However, there are some changes which you must report directly to The Land and Property Services. These are:

  • changes to the people who live with you and their income or capital
  • any time spent away from home if it is for more than 13 weeks
  • changes involving children
  • changes to your capital over £16,000, (£50,000, if you're over 60 and getting Rate Relief) and any changes to the income and capital of your partner.

If you are not sure whether to report a change to The Land and Property Services, you should do so anyway. If you don't report these changes, you may not get all the benefit you are entitled to, or you may be paid too much benefit (an overpayment) which will have to be paid back later. If you do not report a change you may even be investigated for fraud - see also under the heading Checks on Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief, change of circumstances and fraud.

If you want more information about what changes to report, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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Problems with Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief

If you are refused Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief and you think the decision is wrong, or you think the amount of benefit has been worked out wrongly, you can ask for the decision to be looked at again, or you can appeal. You should do this within one month of the decision.

If you are not happy with the service you have received from the Housing Benefit/Rate Relief department (for example, because of long delays or errors which are not sorted out), you can complain.

Discrimination

It's against the law for you to be treated unfairly because of your race, sex, disability, sexuality or religion when The Land and Property Services decide about your claim for Housing Benefit or Rate Relief.

If you feel that you've been discriminated against, you can make a complaint.

For more information about challenging a Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief decision, and about complaining, see Problems with benefits and tax credits.

If you are not happy with a Housing Benefit for rates or Rate Relief decision, or you want to make a complaint, you can also consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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Further help with rates

Transitional Relief

Transitional relief was introduced to help people who experienced a large increase in their rates bill in April 2007. If your rates bill was 33% higher than it would have been under the old system, an automatic discount will be taken off your bill. You do not need to apply for Transitional Relief and it is not based on your savings or income. The scheme runs until 2009 and, in 2008, two-thirds of the amount over the 33% threshold will be paid. In 2009, one-third of the amount of over the 33% threshold will be paid.

Lone Pensioner Allowance

Lone Pensioner Allowance is a 20% discount for people aged 70 or over who live alone. Lone Pensioner Allowance is not based on your income or savings but you do need to make a claim to The Land and Property Services and provide proof of your age. You are counted as living alone even if certain people do actually live with you. The following people can live with you and you will still qualify for the discount:

  • carers who live with you. The carer must not be your spouse or partner
  • people with severe mental health problems
  • children or young people eligible for child benefit.

If you are not sure if you qualify, you can also consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

You can obtain a claim form for Lone Pensioner Allowance from your local Housing Executive, Jobs and Benefits office or Land and Property Services Office.

You can also download a form from the Land and Property Services website at: www.lpsni.gov.uk.

Disabled Person’s Allowance

Disabled Person’s allowance is a 25% reduction in your rates bill. It is payable if you, or someone who lives with you, has a disability and the house has been adapted specially for the person with the disabilities. The adaptations that qualify are:

  • a room other than the kitchen, bathroom or toilet which is mainly used by the person with the disability
  • an extra kitchen, bathroom or toilet for the use of the person with the disability
  • extra floor space to use a wheelchair.

The adaptations must have been made for the person who currently lives in your house.

You can obtain a claim form for Disabled Person's Allowance from your local Land and Property Services office or download a form from the Land and Property services website at: www.lpsni.gov.uk.

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