I’ll be 80 this autumn. I am disabled and have lived on my own for the last four years, which is affecting my mental health. I am receiving guaranteed pension credit.
My husband died in 2017 and because I was not coping with my bereavement I went to live with my daughter.
In 2018 I moved into a three-bedroom private rented home and started to receive housing benefit.
My rent is £450 and I receive £320, a shortfall of £130. For the last two years I’ve been trying to find out why I don’t get the full housing benefit.
Income shortfall: I am 80 and can’t get full housing benefit because I privately rent a three-bedroom house
I’ve contacted my local council several times and was told it was my own fault as I chose to live where I do.
The person I contacted was rude and I asked if they had any two-bedroom houses and was told no, I cannot get a council property and had to have whatever I could find.
I’m only able to use my gas and electricity combined for £3 a day which gives me power for two hours heating and for cooking my meals. God knows what I will do in the winter.
I am going to challenge the council decision and would like a reply so that I can send it with other information that I’ve been able to find.
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Steve Webb replies: Thank you for getting in touch. I was sorry to read about the pressures you are facing.
When it comes to getting help with rent, for people who are renting from a local authority or a housing association there is one set of rules, and for those (such as yourself) who are renting from a private landlord there is a different set of rules.
Where people of working age rent from a ‘social landlord’ they can get benefit to cover their actual rent provided that they are living in a house that is of the ‘right size’.
Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below
This means that housing benefit for social renters will generally cover their actual rent but with a deduction if they have spare bedrooms. This deduction is sometimes called the ‘bedroom tax’. (Note that different rules apply in Scotland.)
However, pensioners are exempt from this deduction. This means that, as a pensioner, if you were renting from a council you would probably be getting your rent covered in full by housing benefit.
Unfortunately for you, the situation is different where people rent from a private landlord.
In this case, they receive something known as ‘local housing allowance’ (LHA). Under this system people do *not* receive benefit based on their actual rent.
There are two main reasons why you may receive less in LHA than your actual rent figure:
– Benefit rates are based on rents in cheaper parts of the area (regardless of where you actually live)
– You receive benefit only for a house of the size you are deemed to need, not for spare bedrooms. This rule applies both to people of working age and to pensioners.
It is possible that both of these factors have led to you getting benefit at a rate which does not cover your full rent.
In other words, many years before there was a ‘bedroom tax’ for working age social renters, there was already a similar measure for all private renters via the LHA scheme and this is part of the reason you are not getting all the help you are seeking.
STEVE WEBB ANSWERS YOUR PENSION QUESTIONS
Assuming that there is no other suitable accommodation available, the only thing I can suggest is that you apply to the council for something called a ‘discretionary housing payment’.
This is a benefit top-up which the council can pay for people in particular need. These payments may be time-limited and they may not cover the full shortfall in your rent, but they could help to tide you over.
In terms of being able to afford your energy bills and other costs, you should be getting help from several government schemes this year.
If your property is in council tax band A to D, you should already have received or have been informed about a £150 payment which was announced earlier in the year.
More recently, the Chancellor announced a series of additional payments and you can qualify for more than one of these.
– All pensioners will get an additional £300 lump sum which will be paid in the winter on top of your regular winter fuel payment.
– As you are on pension credit you should get an additional lump sum of £650, payable in two instalments. The first instalment (of £326) is payable in the second half of July, whilst the balance should be paid later this year.
– If you are on one of the main disability benefits such as attendance allowance, disability living allowance or personal independent payment, you will get an additional £150 lump sum payable in September.
Finally, all local authorities in England have been given additional ‘hardship’ funds to help people in particular need, and a proportion of that money is ring-fenced for pensioners.
If you are really struggling you can apply for help from this fund, and this could also help you to make ends meet in these difficult times.
Different councils have different names for these funds, such as ‘household support fund’ or ‘local welfare assistance’, but a local branch of Age UK or Citizens Advice may be able to help you to apply if you are not sure what to do.
Ask Steve Webb a pension question
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is This Is Money’s Agony Uncle.
He is ready to answer your questions, whether you are still saving, in the process of stopping work, or juggling your finances in retirement.
Steve left the Department of Work and Pensions after the May 2015 election. He is now a partner at actuary and consulting firm Lane Clark & Peacock.
If you would like to ask Steve a question about pensions, please email him at email@example.com.
Steve will do his best to reply to your message in a forthcoming column, but he won’t be able to answer everyone or correspond privately with readers. Nothing in his replies constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.
Please include a daytime contact number with your message – this will be kept confidential and not used for marketing purposes.
If Steve is unable to answer your question, you can also contact MoneyHelper, a Government-backed organisation which gives free assistance on pensions to the public. It can be found here and its number is 0800 011 3797.
Steve receives many questions about state pension forecasts and COPE – the Contracted Out Pension Equivalent. If you are writing to Steve on this topic, he responds to a typical reader question here. It includes links to Steve’s several earlier columns about state pension forecasts and contracting out, which might be helpful.
TOP SIPPS FOR DIY PENSION INVESTORS
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