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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Housing Benefit affected if any member of the household is outside NI

In January 2017 the temporary absence rules for Housing Benefit changed. Since then, there has been a four-week limit placed on absences outside Northern Ireland. If a person is absent from Northern Ireland for more than four weeks, that person is no longer entitled to receive Housing Benefit, unless the absence is for specific reasons. These rules also apply to Universal Credit, although the time limit for Universal Credit claimants is one month, rather than four weeks.

Recently, Housing Rights has received several calls where the callers Housing Benefit has been reduced, because a member of that person’s household has been outside Northern Ireland for longer than four weeks.

Although the temporary absence rules are most commonly thought of in regard to Housing Benefit claimants, they apply equally to members of the claimant’s household. This means that a person may have their Housing Benefit reduced if, for example the household includes a child who is studying in the Republic of Ireland or in Great Britain.  

Housing Benefit should not be affected if the person returns to Northern Ireland within a four-week period. If, for example, a 19-year-old student attends college in Dublin but returns home to Ballymena every three weeks, his parents’ Housing Benefit should not be affected.  

Impact on social tenants

Social tenants whose household includes a person who has had to leave Northern Ireland for a period of more than four weeks will be subject to the bedroom tax. However, the money that is lost from Housing Benefit should be replaced by a welfare supplementary payment. This means that most social tenants will not lose out financially because of this change until 2020 when these extra payments are due to end.

Impact on private tenants

Private tenants in a similar position are likely to have their Housing Benefit entitlement recalculated using a lower LHA rate, but will not be entitled to a welfare supplementary payment to make up the difference. Instead, any household affected by this reduction should apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment. You can get help applying for this extra help towards your rent by phoning 028 9024 5640 and choosing option 3.

Absences of longer than four weeks

An absence from Northern Ireland for more than four weeks is permissible in the following circumstances:

  • An absence of up to 8 weeks is permissible if the claimant’s partner or child has died and it is unreasonable to expect the claimant to return to Northern Ireland within four weeks.
  • An absence of up to 8 weeks is permissible if a close relative of the claimant or claimant’s partner has died or if a child or young person who normally lives with the claimant has died and the absence from NI is related to this death.
  • An absence of up to 26 weeks is permissible if the claimant is outside Northern Ireland because the claimant, the claimant’s partner, or a child or young person for whom the claimant is responsible is receiving medical treatment or recovering from treatment.
  • An absence of up to 26 weeks is permissible if the claimant has left Northern Ireland due to domestic violence.
  • An absence of up to 26 weeks is permissible if the claimant is a continental shelf worker, mariner or a member of the armed forces who has been posted overseas. 

Claimants or advisers dealing with this issue can contact Housing Rights for advice on 028 9024 5640, or by visiting housingadviceni.org.

Tagged In

Benefits, Welfare Reform, Affordability


Etain Ní Fhearghail
This article was written on 10 November 2017. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.