Renting: your options as a single parent
Date last updated: 28 September 2020
Renting and getting help to pay the rent
This page gives you detailed information about renting a home as a single parent.
Read on for information about finding a home to rent and about financial support such as housing benefit, universal credit, and other forms of assistance.
We also have a list of specialist organisations to contact for futher help and expert advice.
Types of housing if you’re renting or thinking about renting
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’re 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’re 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, universal credit and council tax reduction are different.
Renting from a private landlord
The cost of renting from a private landlord is generally higher than social housing. You can claim housing benefit to pay your rent, but you will need to check the local limit for how much you can receive towards you rent. This issue is covered in detail below.
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’re not sure of.
Before committing to a tenancy, you may want to find out if you’re able to get housing benefit or universal credit to help with the rent and how much that would be. See below for more details about claiming housing benefit or universal credit.
Paying a deposit and rent in advance
Private landlords usually ask you to pay a deposit before moving in, which should be held in a secure deposit scheme and then refunded when you move out as long as you leave the property in the same state you found it. You’ll 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 or universal credit you may qualify for a discretionary housing payment from your local council to help to pay a deposit/rent in advance/removal costs. This does not have to be repaid.
If you do not receive housing benefit or universal credit, or if you’re 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 Crisis for a list of private rented sector support schemes.
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 service in your local area.
If you receive income-related benefits such as jobseekers or employment and support allowance, income support or pension credit you may qualify for a budgeting loan from Jobcentre Plus to pay rent in advance. The loan is repayable and must be repaid within a two year period, but no interest is charged. 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
If you’re receiving universal credit you can apply for a budgeting advance directly from your local Jobcentre Plus. Find out more here.
Protecting your deposit
At the start of a new tenancy, your landlord should protect your deposit in a secure deposit scheme. You should be given details of the scheme and know how to contact the provider. The scheme provider can help to resolve any dispute you may have with the landlord about the return of your deposit when you leave the property. Find more information on the .Gov website.
Applying to your local council for housing
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, you bid for homes that you’re eligible to apply for. In both cases, the council allocates housing to those in highest need – this is called ‘priority need’ – first, and then to those with lower priority.
Who can apply for local council housing?
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’re 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. Contact one of the organisations listed at the end of the page for more information on making a homeless application – especially Crisis or Shelter.
Note: If you’re not a British citizen, or do not have the right to reside in the UK, check whether you’re entitled to apply for council housing. Always get advice before making an application. See the useful organisations section below.
How do I make an application?
You can apply for housing by making an ordinary housing application or being referred from a hostel or voluntary agency (if you’re 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’re unsure whether you should make an ordinary housing application or a homeless application.
What will happen after I have applied?
The council will inform you whether you’re eligible to go onto the housing register, and whether you need to wait on the list until you’re notified of a home, or whether you’ll 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.
How is the priority of my application decided?
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.
What choice of accommodation will I have?
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.
Can I apply for council housing if I own my own home?
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’re living in poor conditions and would not raise enough money from the sale of your home for alternative accommodation.
Applying to a housing association or housing cooperative
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. You can claim housing benefit to help with the rent if you’re on a low income, whether you’re working or not.
Housing association homes
Your local council should have a list of housing associations that provide housing in your area. The process for getting a housing association home is similar to that for council housing. When you apply, your priority over other housing applicants will be assessed.
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 tell you which housing associations have an open applications system for your area.
Most 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’re 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 the useful organisations section below for contact details.
Help with rent and other housing costs
Note: If you have recently come to the UK, have limited right to be here, or are from the European Community, you may not have the right to claim the following benefits. Receiving them may affect any application you’re making to the Home Office to live in the UK. Get advice before claiming. See the useful organisations section below.
For help with renting while claiming benefits, see Shelter’s article on ‘How to find landlords who accept benefits‘.
If you’re 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’re receiving other benefits, or if you’re 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 might 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’ – an assessment in advance – to find out how much housing and council tax reduction you would receive for a particular property before you sign a tenancy agreement.
Universal credit is a new benefit system that is replacing many of the current benefits and tax credits. Families with children who are claiming benefits for the first time in selected Jobcentres now claim universal credit instead of housing benefit. Visit our universal credit pages to find out more about universal credit and how it may affect your family.
If you’re receiving universal credit, a payment called the ‘housing element’ is included in your monthly universal credit payment to help you pay your rent. It’s 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’s 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.
Help with the cost of renting from a private landlord – local limits
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’re 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.
Our helpline advisers can help you work out if you’re eligible for help with rent and council tax, and assist with the calculation.
Housing benefit if you’re under 35
If you’re under 35, do not have children and rent from a private landlord, the amount of housing benefit you can receive is restricted to the amount you would get for renting a single room in a shared house. This is called the shared accommodation rate.
If you’re pregnant and expecting your first child, you may not get enough housing benefit or universal credit to rent a place of your own until after your baby is born. Note: single parents under 35 who already 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’re already renting a home.
The rules can be complicated, so contact our helpline for advice on your situation.
There’s a limit on the amount of money that working age households can receive in benefits and tax credits. If the benefit cap applies to you, 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.
Note: the benefit cap does not apply to everybody so it’s very important to check whether you’re exempt, or could become exempt, from the cap. See our interactive advice to check whether you could be affected by the benefit cap.
If the benefit cap does apply to you and you have a shortfall in your rent, you may be able to apply for a payment from your local council to make up the difference. This is called a ‘discretionary housing payment’ – read more about this payment.
The ‘bedroom tax’ (also called the ‘under-occupancy charge’)
If you live in housing association or council housing, there are rules limiting the number of bedrooms you’re allowed to include in your claim for housing benefit. If you’re found to have a ‘spare’ bedroom, your housing benefit or universal credit can be reduced. You could then have a shortfall to make up in order to pay your rent in full.
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’ll 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. This means that if you have two children currently 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’re 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 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, until Ryan is ten years old
Note: You could be exempt if you have a disabled child who needs their own room, or if you or your child needs overnight care.There are also some exemptions that apply to certain types of tenancies.
Always seek specialist advice if you’re affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. Contact Citizens Advice, Shelter or your housing officer if you have one. See the ‘useful organisations’ section below for contact details of these organisations.
Extra help for rent shortfalls
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 don’t have an automatic right to this payment; it’s up to your local council to decide if you’re entitled to it.
Who to contact
Learn about other organisations that can help you by clicking on the blocks below:
England: 03444 111 444
Wales: 03444 77 20 20
Text relay users: 03444 111 445
Information and advice on a wide range of issues including benefits and tax credits, housing and family law.
Civil Legal Advice
0845 345 4345
For checking eligibility for legal aid if you need legal help with a housing issue.
Visit the website to search for a scheme in your area that could help with a deposit for rented accommodation or use the main site to find information about emergency accommodation.
Telephone: 0800 055 6688
Textphone: 0800 023 4888
To make a new claim for benefits.
Law Centres Federation
Law Centres are charities offering free legal advice on social welfare law, usually including housing. Find your local law centre on the website or see their listing in the telephone directory.
0808 808 4000
Free and confidential debt advice including help to complete a financial statement.
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.
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.
0845 330 4510
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.
0808 808 2255
Provides advice and assistance to asylum seekers and refugees. Also works to support unaccompanied refugee children. See website for details of local centres.
Step Change Debt Charity
0800 138 1111
Provides free independent debt advice and debt management plans.
0808 800 4444
Provides information and advice on a range of housing issues and a signposting service for further help and advice.
020 7359 5767
Advice and information for the lesbian, gay and bisexual community on homelessness, housing options, harassment and finding accommodation.
The Money Advice Service
0300 500 5000
Free advice and information to help you manage your money. Publications include a parent’s guide to money, finances in divorce or separation, information on financial products and services, financial guides and budgeting tools.
Further help and information
Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline
Freephone 0808 802 0925
Provides free, confidential advice for single parents. No matter the challenge – around your finances, contact arrangements or help you could receive – our trained advisers are here with tailored advice that works for you.
One Parent Families Scotland
Lone Parent Helpline 0808 801 0323
Run by our partner organisation, One Parent Families Scotland, the Lone Parent Helpline provides free, confidential advice and information for single parents in Scotland.
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