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Property rented from a local council, housing association or housing cooperative is often called social housing. Accommodation rented from an individual landlord or letting agency is called private accommodation.
If you are not working, or are working but on a low income, you may be able to get help from the government towards your rent or mortgage. You can apply for help with the cost of rent whether you are living in social housing or privately rented accommodation.
If you're thinking of living with friends or family, you should still be able to claim benefits as a single parent, although the rules for housing benefit and council tax reduction are different.
If you are falling behind with mortgage payments, get free money advice from one of the organisations listed on page nine as soon as possible. These organisations can help you to look at your budget, work out your options and negotiate with your mortgage lender. You may also wish to speak to your mortgage lender to see if they can offer any support.
Some mortgage lenders offer assisted voluntary sales schemes for those who cannot afford mortgage payments on their home. The advantage of these schemes is they allow you to sell your home yourself; potentially achieving a better price than if it was repossessed by the mortgage company. They also help you avoid court action and allow you more control over your move.
Assisted voluntary sales schemes vary but will often:
- Allow you time to sell your home, without the mortgage company taking possession
- Agree to reduced monthly mortgage payments while your property is advertised and sold
- Reimburse any solicitor and/or estate agent fees
- Provide an asset manager to help progress the sale
- Provide a deposit or rent in advance for private rented accommodation.
Some mortgage lenders do not have a formal scheme but may be open to individual requests for assistance if you are committed to selling your home. Giving up your home can be a hard decision. Get advice from one of the organisations listed on page nine before making a decision.
For detailed information about how to deal with mortgage arrears see the National Homelessness Advisory Service factsheet ‘Are you worried about your mortgage?’, which is available at www.nhas.org.uk.
The cost of renting from a private landlord is generally higher than social housing. Rents will vary depending on the size of the property and the area you live in. You should agree the rent and how it will be paid with your landlord before your tenancy begins. Check the tenancy agreement carefully before signing it and make sure you understand the terms and conditions and any charges you will have to pay. Ask the landlord or letting agency to explain anything you are not sure of.
Before committing to a tenancy, you may want to find out if you are able to get help with the rent and how much that would be. See page six for more details.
Private landlords usually ask you to pay a deposit before moving in, which should be refunded when you move out as long as you leave the property in the same state you found it. You will usually also be asked to pay the first month’s rent in advance.
There can be quite a few upfront costs associated with moving into a private property. If you already receive housing benefit you may qualify for a discretionary housing payment from your local council to pay a deposit. This does not have to be repaid.
If you do not receive housing benefit or if you are refused a discretionary housing payment, check with the housing department at your local council whether they have a tenancy support scheme that could help you with these payments. Visit www.crisis.org.uk for a list of national tenancy support schemes, or ask at your nearest advice centre.
If there are no tenancy support schemes listed for your area, check locally for other schemes that may be available. Contact your local council or use Shelter’s directory to find an advice centre in your local area.
If you receive income related benefits you may qualify for a budgeting loan from Jobcentre plus to pay rent in advance. The loan is repayable but no interest is charged and you pay the loan back over a two year period. A budgeting loan can also be used to pay for the cost of moving, or for essential items such as furniture or equipment in your new home.
To apply for a budgeting loan download the form here: www.gov.uk/budgeting-loans/how-to-claim
For information on help with paying rent and council tax if you rent a property from a private landlord see page six.
Local councils have two systems for allocating council housing – some use a waiting list and others use a bidding system called ‘choice based lettings’. Some councils use a combination of both.
If your council uses a waiting list, you have to wait until the council notifies you that a home is available. If your council uses the choice based lettings system then you bid for homes that you are eligible to apply for. In both cases the council allocates housing to those in priority need first, and then to those with lower priority.
Councils have criteria setting out who is eligible to apply for council housing. You can check your local council’s housing policy to see if you meet the criteria to go on your area’s housing list or register. Shelter has in depth advice about applying to go on the housing register.
If you are homeless or about to be made homeless you can apply to your local council for housing. This is a different process to applying to go on the general waiting list. See page three for more information on making a homeless application.
Note: If you are not a British citizen, or do not have the right to reside in the UK, check whether you are entitled to apply for council housing. Always get advice before making an application. See the list of useful organisations on page nine.
You can apply for housing by making an ordinary housing application or being referred from a hostel or voluntary agency (if you are already living in accommodation owned by them), or by making a homeless application. Contact the housing department at your local council for details of how to apply. Seek advice from Shelter or Citizens Advice if you are unsure whether you should make an ordinary housing application or a homeless application.
The council will inform you whether you are eligible to go onto the housing register, and whether you need to wait on the list until you are notified of a home, or whether you will be expected to make bids. The council will also tell you what priority of housing need you have been assessed as having.
The council should give you an idea of how long you have to wait for an offer of accommodation. The waiting time will depend on the priority of your housing need and the type of accommodation that is available.
Councils generally use priority systems to allocate housing, although some still use points systems or waiting lists.
You should be given priority if you:
- Are homeless
- Are living in unsatisfactory housing conditions
- Need to move because of your health or wellbeing
- Need to move to a particular area and, not doing so would cause hardship to yourself or to others. For example, because you need specialist medical treatment
Your choice of accommodation will depend on local circumstances, such as how much and what type of housing is available. In many areas there is a shortage of local council housing.
Make sure you know what your options are and seek advice from Shelter or Citizens Advice before refusing any accommodation that is offered, as refusing an offer may affect your priority status.
Even if you own and live in your home the council should consider your housing application in the same way as other applicants. You could still be at risk of homelessness if, for example, your home is no longer affordable, or if you have to sell your home following a relationship breakdown. You can also apply if you are living in poor conditions and would not raise enough money from the sale of your home for alternative accommodation.
Details: Visit the website to search for a scheme in your area that could help with a deposit for rented accommodation.
Details: Use the site to find your local HomeBuy provider and find out more about the schemes available.
Organisation: Jobcentre Plus
Details: To claim welfare benefits including jobseekers allowance and employment and support allowance.
Phone: Telephone: 0800 055 6688 - claim line ; 0800 012 1888 - Claim line Welsh language
Details: Gives details of local housing advice centres throughout the country and provides information and advice on a range of housing issues and signposting service for further help and advice.
Phone: Freephone 0808 800 4444
Details: YouthNet runs TheSite.org, a free information and advice site for young people, which includes forums, factsheets and email advice. See the Home, Law and Money section
for information on housing issues for young people.
If you are homeless, or threatened with homelessness, go to your local council’s Homeless Persons Unit to make a homeless application. If there is a possibility that you might be able to stay in your current home, you can ask the local council to provide you with practical and legal advice on how to do this.
If you need to contact the Homeless Persons Unit during the evening, at weekends or in an emergency, call your local council’s main switchboard which should provide you with a number for emergencies. If you have nowhere to stay, then you should be offered emergency accommodation. Wherever possible, it is better to approach the council before an emergency.
If you are experiencing difficulties or are thinking about making a homeless application, it is a good idea to get advice first. There is a list of useful organisations which provide free, independent advice on page nine.
The council’s Homeless Persons Unit will carry out five tests to decide what help you are entitled to:
The following people are usually not eligible for council housing:
- Those whose behaviour, or the behaviour of a member of their family, is considered to be unacceptable
- Most people who are subject to immigration control
- Those who are not habitually resident in the UK (those who do not intend to remain in and settle in the UK for a period of time). If you are an EU national and have lived in the UK for less than five years you should check your eligibility for housing from the local council. Shelter has useful advice here.
Every local council must publish its housing application and allocation policy so that people know how their application will be treated.
If your homeless application is refused, you must be given reasons for the decision in writing and you have the right to ask for a review of the decision. Seek advice immediately, especially if you have been refused help because of your immigration status. See page nine for a list of useful organisations, especially Shelter and Citizens Advice.
This definition of homelessness can include being unable to afford your current accommodation, or being asked to leave a friend or relatives’ home where you were staying . If you have been subjected to or are at risk of violence, or would be if you returned home, you should be considered homeless.
As a pregnant woman or a single parent responsible for dependent children, you should be classed as ‘in priority need’.
You will need to show that you did not deliberately do something, or fail to do something which caused you to lose your home. Having to leave your home due to circumstances beyond your control can include financial problems caused by the end of a relationship or a job loss. You should not be classed as intentionally homeless if you left your home because you experienced or were threatened with violence. This test can be complicated, so get specialist independent advice from one of the organisations listed on page nine.
You will usually be considered to have a local connection if you have lived in the area for a total of six out of the last 12 months or three out of the last five years, or have employment or family links to the area.
You can also show a connection to the local area if you need to live there for specialist medical treatment, or if you have previously lived in the area for a long time. It is important to get specialist advice if you need help in showing that you have a connection to a particular area. See our list of useful organisations on page nine, especially Shelter and Citizens Advice.
If you do not have a connection to the local area, the local council may not accept responsibility to provide long-term accommodation for you. You can be referred to another council area where you do have a connection, unless returning to this area would put you at risk of violence.
If you are a single parent with dependent children or a pregnant woman, the council has a duty to provide you with temporary (interim) accommodation if they find you to be homeless. The council will then decide whether they have to provide you with long term (settled) accommodation.
If the local council decides that you qualify for help, they must provide you with somewhere to live until settled accommodation has been arranged for you.
Any settled accommodation that you are offered should be suitable for your needs. Find out what the allocation process is before you accept or reject an offer. If you are unsure, seek advice before you accept.
If the local council has housed you in temporary accommodation but later decides that you are not entitled to long term accommodation, you should be allowed to remain in temporary accommodation for around 28 days while you find somewhere to live. The council should still provide you with advice on finding somewhere to live, including information about private sector housing.
Organisation: Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline
Details: Free information on a range of issues including maintenance, benefits, tax credits, debt, employment, education, legal rights and holidays. Open Mondays 10am to 6pm, Tuesday/Thursday/Friday 10am to 4pm and Wednesdays 10am-1pm and 5pm to 7pm
Phone: Freephone 0808 802 0925
If you are aged 16 or 17, cannot live with your parents and then become homeless, you will be entitled to help from social services and your council’s housing service. Contact the social services department at your local council.
If you have difficulties making an application or are passed between departments, get advice from an organisation like Shelter, Citizens Advice or your local free advice centre straight away.
Rents in housing association or housing cooperative properties will be lower than those set for private accommodation but are usually higher than rents in council homes. As a tenant, you cannot control the amount of rent charged but you may be able to claim housing benefit to help with the cost.
Some housing associations have an open register and you can apply directly to these housing associations. The housing department at your local council will be able to inform you which housing associations have an open applications system for your area.
Other housing associations will only take tenants who have been nominated by the local council. This means you must first apply to your local council for housing. If you are referred in this way, you should treat an offer of accommodation from the housing association as if it were an offer from the local council – there may be a limit to the number of offers you can refuse.
A housing cooperative is a small housing organisation, where properties are managed and sometimes owned by the members of the co-operative. There are different types of housing co-operatives, including those where tenants have been involved in building the properties.
Getting access to a housing cooperative home can be difficult. Some have open waiting lists but for others you may need to know someone who already lives there to find out about available properties. Radical Routes or the Confederation of Cooperative Housing may be able to assist you. See page nine for contact details.
These allow you to buy a share of a property and pay rent on the remaining share that you do not own. You can buy the remaining share at a later date, or carry on paying rent on that part of your home. Your council will be able to tell you about any shared ownership schemes in your area, or you can check online at www.ownyourhome.gov.uk.
Help to buy schemes help buyers who cannot afford to buy a property that suits their housing needs on the open market. You need to have a deposit ready and the government will provide a loan for a further percentage of the cost of the property. You also take out a mortgage to buy the rest of the property.
The amounts needed for a deposit and the amount that the government lends varies for different schemes. You will need enough savings to cover the initial costs of buying a home, including legal fees and moving costs. There is also a government mortgage guarantee scheme and other schemes for first time buyers and former home owners who have sold their property or are in housing need. Visit ownyourownhome.gov.uk for more information.
If you are receiving income support, jobseekers allowance or employment and support allowance, you should receive help with your rent and council tax. You may also receive help if you are receiving other benefits, or if you are working but are living on a low income.
You can claim housing benefit and council tax reduction whether you rent from a social landlord like a council or housing association, or a private landlord.
If you rent your home from a friend or relative you must have a commercial tenancy agreement with them. If you live with a close relative you may not be able to claim housing benefit for any rent you pay.
Housing benefit and council tax reduction are means tested, so the amount you receive is based on your income and circumstances. You can ask your local council for a pre-tenancy determination to find out how much housing and council tax reduction you would receive for a particular property before you sign a tenancy agreement.
If you are receiving universal credit a payment called the ‘housing element’ is included in your monthly universal credit payment to help you pay your rent. It is usually paid directly to you along with the rest of your universal credit payment each month, and you then pay the rent to your landlord when it is due.
If you receive universal credit you will need to apply for council tax reduction separately to your application for universal credit. This is because council tax reduction is not included in your universal credit assessment. You need to apply directly to your local council to get your council tax reduction calculated and applied to your bill. Contact your local council to make sure you receive your full entitlement to council tax reduction.
For more information about universal credit see our website www.gingerbread.org.uk.
If you rent a property from a private landlord there is a limit on the amount of housing benefit or universal credit housing element you can receive. This maximum amount is called the local housing allowance. If your rent is more than this amount you will have to pay the difference, even if you are on benefits or a low income.
The local housing allowance is different in each area. Contact your local council for details or search for your local housing allowance at http://lha-direct.voa.gov.uk/search.aspx.
This can be a difficult area to get to grips with, but the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline can work out if you are eligible for help with rent and council tax. Call us on 0808 802 0925. Calls are free from landlines and most mobiles.
If you are under 35, do not have children and rent from a private landlord the amount of housing benefit you can receive is restricted to the rate you would get for renting a single room in a shared house. It is called the shared accommodation rate. This may affect you if you are pregnant and expecting your first child as it means you may not get enough housing benefit to rent a place of your own until after your baby is born. Single parents under 35 who have children living with them are not affected by this rule.
There are exemptions and special rules if you have been in care or if you are already renting a home.
The rules can be complicated, so contact the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline for advice on your situation. Also see Frequently asked questions on page eight.
If you are not working, or work less than 16 hours a week and are on a low income, you may be able to receive help towards your mortgage interest through income support, jobseekers allowance or employment and support allowance.
After making a claim, there is a waiting period of 13 weeks before you can receive any help if you make the claim before April 2016. If you make the claim from 1 April 2016 there is a waiting period of 39 weeks before you can receive any help. You should seek specialist advice on which waiting period will apply to you from an organisation such as Shelter, Citizens Advice or Gingerbread. See the list of useful organisations on page nine.
The amount you receive may not cover all of your monthly mortgage payment so you may need to discuss with your mortgage lender how you can deal with the shortfall. To make an application, contact Jobcentre Plus.
There is a limit on the amount of money that your household can receive in benefits and tax credits. The maximum amount was set at £500 a week in 2015 but the government plans to reduce this amount further in 2016. Check our website www.gingerbread.org.uk for updates about the benefit cap including the amount that applies after April 2016.
If the benefit cap applies to you then your housing benefit or universal credit will be reduced until it reaches the cap. This means that your rent would not be covered in full by your housing benefit or universal credit housing element.
The benefit cap does not apply to everybody so it is very important to check whether you are exempt, or could become exempt from the cap. See our interactive advice to check whether you could be affected by the benefit cap, and find out what to do if you are: www.gingerbread.org.uk/ content/952/Benefit-Cap
If you live in housing association or council housing there are rules limiting the amount of housing benefit you can receive if you are found to have a ‘spare’ bedroom. If you have more bedrooms than the rules allow, your housing benefit will be reduced, and you will have a shortfall to make up in order to pay your rent.
The rules state that two children under the age of sixteen who are of the same gender should share a room. If you have two children of the same gender and they each have their own bedroom, one of the rooms is deemed ‘spare’ and you will be affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. If you have two children of different genders, they are expected to share a room until one reaches the age of ten. If you have two children under the age of ten who have separate bedrooms, one of those rooms will be ‘spare’ under the rules and you will be liable for the ‘bedroom tax’ until one of the children reaches the age of ten.
The ‘bedroom tax’ is a 14 per cent reduction in your housing benefit if you are deemed to have one ‘spare’ bedroom. If you have two ‘spare’ bedrooms under the rules, then your housing benefit will be reduced by 25 per cent.
The same rules apply to universal credit. The housing element of your universal credit would be reduced either by 14 or 25 per cent depending on how many ‘spare’ rooms apply in your case.
Sofia has two children. Ryan is nine and Olivia is seven. They live in a three bedroom housing association house, and the rent is £100 a week. Sofia has a part-time job and receives full housing benefit of £100 a week.
Because Ryan and Olivia are under 10 years old, under the new rules they would be allocated one bedroom between them, which they would be expected to share. This means that according to the new criteria, Sofia has a ‘spare’ bedroom.
Due to the ‘spare’ bedroom, Sofia’s housing benefit will be reduced. she will lose 14 per cent of her housing benefit, so will receive £86 a week, rather than £100.
Note: You could be exempt if you have a disabled child who needs their own room. There are also some exemptions that apply to certain types of tenancies.
Always seek specialist advice if you are affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. Contact Citizens Advice, Shelter or your housing officer if you have one. See the list of useful organisations on page nine.
If you receive housing benefit or universal credit and/or council tax reduction and you need extra help to cover the cost of your rent and council tax, you can ask your local council for a discretionary housing payment. You do not have an automatic right to this payment; it is up to your local council to decide if you are entitled to it. You will need to explain your situation, including why you need the payment and what, if anything, you plan to do in the future to make your housing costs more affordable. These payments are not usually a long term solution. Get advice from your local Citizens Advice, Shelter or other free advice centre if you are refused a payment.
I am planning to move out of the home that I shared with my former partner. My name is not on the mortgage. Am I entitled to anything?
Although your name is not on the mortgage, you may have a financial interest in the property if you contributed to the mortgage or to other payments such as household bills or repairs. This means you could be entitled to a share of any equity (value) that is in the property. Seek advice from a solicitor or housing expert.
I am a joint owner. Can I take my former partner’s name off the mortgage?
You will need your former partner’s permission to make any changes to a joint mortgage. Your former partner may still have a share in the property, even if they are no longer making payments towards the mortgage. This means they may be entitled to a share of any equity, particularly if their name is on the title deeds. Seek specialist housing advice from a solicitor before agreeing to any changes. Your mortgage lender may also have to agree to any changes and you should get financial advice to see if you can afford to take on the mortgage alone. See the list of useful organisations on page nine.
I need to find housing with a landlord rather than wait for council or housing association housing. Can I claim housing benefit?
You can rent privately using housing benefit to pay your rent. There is a limit on the maximum amount of housing benefit you can claim, called the Local Housing Allowance. See page six above for more details. Shelter has details about renting in the private sector and what to do if a landlord says they don’t accept housing benefit. The guide is available here or at shelter.org.uk.
I am selling a home that I jointly own with my former partner. I want to put the equity towards a new home but am worried that this will affect my benefits.
If you sell your home and intend to use the profit to buy another property to live in, the capital can be ignored for 26 weeks from the date of the sale and will not affect any benefits that you receive. If it is reasonable to do so, your capital can be ignored for longer to allow you to complete a sale. Seek independent mortgage advice before you take out a loan; you may struggle to get a good deal if you do not have a regular source of income other than benefits.
I am under 35 and live with my parents. I am pregnant and would like a place of my own – what are my options?
If you wish to rent a home of your own and are on a low income, you may be eligible to claim housing benefit to help with the rent. Whilst you are under 35 and have no dependent children living with you, the maximum housing benefit you can receive is limited to the amount that would cover the average rent for a single room in shared accommodation. This is called the shared accommodation rate. If you choose to live in larger accommodation, you will have to pay the rest of the rent yourself.
After your baby is born, the shared accommodation restriction will no longer apply and you can claim housing benefit for a two bedroom property. The amount of help you actually get will depend on your income, the size of the home you live in and the average rent in your area. For more information contact the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline or Shelter.
Organisation: Citizens Advice
Details: Information and advice on a wide range of issues including benefits, employment, debt, housing and consumer rights.
Phone: England: 03444 111 444; Wales: 03444 77 20 20
Organisation: Civil Legal Advice
Details: Can assess your eligibility for legal aid and signpost to local sources of help.
Phone: 0345 345 4345
Organisation: Gingerbread Single Parent Information Online
Details: All our information for single parents available online.
Organisation: Law Centres
Details: Law centres are staffed by legal workers, and sometimes solicitors and barristers. They can give initial legal advice and can sometimes take on your case. They generally don’t deal with divorce or family work. You can check on the website if there is a law centre near you, and what areas of law they cover.
Phone: 020 7387 8570
Organisation: Money Advice Service
Details: Provides impartial financial information including budgeting, loans, credit cards, mortgages and savings.
Phone: 0300 500 5000
Organisation: National Debtline
Details: Free, confidential and independent advice on dealing with debt problems.
Phone: 0808 808 4000
Organisation: National Homelessness Advice Service
Free online factsheets on a wide range of housing subjects, including problems with landlords, homelessness, applying for housing, rent, benefits and money and eviction.
Organisation: Own Your Own Home
Information about help to buy schemes, mortgage guarantee and shared ownership schemes. Includes an interactive tool to help find schemes for your individual circumstances.
Organisation: Radical Routes
A network of cooperative housing groups committed to working for social change based on equality and cooperation. The website contains a list of members and housing vacancies.
Phone: 0845 330 4510
Organisation: Refugee Council
Details: Advice for refugees and asylum seekers.
Phone: 020 7346 6700
Organisation: Step Change Debt Charity
Charity providing free, independent debt counselling
and debt management plans.
Phone: 0800 138 1111
URL: http:// www.stepchange.org
Organisation: Stonewall Housing
Details: Advice and information for the lesbian, gay and bisexual community in London on homelessness, housing options, harassment and finding accommodation.
Phone: 020 7359 5767
Finding a new home for you and your family, or setting up home for the first time as a single parent can be a big challenge. Whether you are worried about your mortgage payments, looking to rent a property, apply for council housing, make a homeless application or buy a home, it is important to get advice on all the options available to you.
Contact details for organisations mentioned in this factsheet can be found on page nine. For more information call the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline on 0808 802 0925. Calls are free from landlines and mobiles. The information in this factsheet is correct as of October 2015.
Housing options for single parents
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