Benefit rules for ‘mixed-age’ couples changed in May, as described here by Simon Osborne.
The general rule
From 15 May 2019, important changes in the law took effect for ‘mixed-age’ couples and their entitlement to pension credit (PC) and housing benefit(HB).1 Here, a ‘mixed-age’ couple means a couple where one member has reached pension age but the other has not.2
From 15 May, the general rule is that a mixed-age couple cannot start to get either PC or HB under the rules for people of pension age (‘pension-age HB’). The benefit that they may be able to get instead, in most cases, is universal credit (UC). Mixed-age couples entitled to PC and pension-age HB on 14 May can continue on those benefits unless and until their entitlement to both PC and pension-age HB as part of that couple comes to an end. If that happens, they cannot re-establish entitlement as a couple and again UC is the usual alternative. Even before 15 May, there was already a rule that new claims for HB were not possible, subject to exceptions – with one of the exceptions regarding claimants of pension age and mixed-aged couples. In effect, the exception for mixed-age couples has been removed from 15 May.
Mixed-age couples entitled to PC and/or pension-age HB on 14 May can continue on those benefits while entitled as the same couple – they do not have to claim UC instead. Mixed-age couples can establish entitlement to PC and pension-age HB using the usual backdating rules – ie, so that they can claim as late as 13 August 2019, if their entitlement as a couple can be backdated to a period which includes 14 May 2019. Where the couple remains entitled to PC from before 15 May 2019, they can still start to get pension-age HB on or after that date, and vice-versa.
For HB, the general rule does not apply to a claimant who is prevented from claiming UC by the so-called ‘SDP gateway’ – ie, because s/he is (or has recently been) entitled to the severe disability premium (SDP) as part of her/his legacy benefit – eg, income-related employment and support allowance (ESA). This will be an uncommon exception in a mixed-age couple. A mixed-age couple where the SDP gateway does apply can still start to get HB on or after 15 May. But, due to entitlement to the legacy benefit (eg, income-related ESA), this would not be pension-age HB. The couple are treated as not falling foul of the upper age limits for legacy benefits.3 In certain other situations where UC cannot be claimed by the younger partner (eg, where subject to immigration control), the older partner can claim pension-age HB and PC as a single person.
Even where UC is claimed, HB can still be awarded in respect of the rent where the accommodation is ‘specified’ or ‘temporary’ accommodation.
For PC, 15 May is the day on which the part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 removing entitlement for mixed-age couples came into force. A ‘savings’ rule provides that a mixed-age couple ‘entitled’ to PC or pension-age HB, or both, on 14 May are exempt, so that while still members of that couple they can still get PC on or after 15 May. However, that savings rule ceases to apply on any day after 15 May where the claimant is no longer entitled either to PC or pension-age HB ‘as part of the same mixed-age couple’.4
For HB, the changes work partly one of the exceptions to the rule that new claims for HB are not possible. The exception for pension-age and mixed-age couples is altered, so that from 15 May a mixed-age couple cannot in general make a new claim. But the exception for mixed-age couples continues to apply where the savings rule about PC (described above) applies to the couple – so that if they were entitled to PC on 14 May and continue to be as that couple, they can still make a new claim for pension-age HB.5
An additional set of ‘transitional’ rules provide for the termination of existing awards of HB in certain circumstances. In essence, these terminate HB awards where the claimants have started to be a member of a mixed-age couple on or after 15 May, or where the mixed-age couple had been entitled to HB but not under the pension-age HB rules, but where they would be now – eg, where one of them had been entitled to income-related ESA, but that has now ceased.6
Existing exceptions allowing new claims for HB (including by a mixed-age couple) where the ‘SDP gateway’ applies, or for ‘specified’ or ‘temporary’ accommodation are not altered, so can continue to apply.7
There are currently two sets of official guidance for decision makers, and a DWP leaflet for PC claimants.
For PC, official guidance for decision makers is in Memo DMG 07/19. The memo summarises the changes as meaning that from 15 May, where a new claim is made, ‘a claimant is not entitled if they are a member of a couple and the other member has not reached the qualifying age (a mixed-age couple)’, subject to the savings rules. It says that such a mixed- age couple may include a younger member getting income support, income-related ESA or income-based jobseeker’s allowance and that entitlement may continue, instead of claiming UC.8
The PC leaflet for claimants includes advice for mixed-age couples: ‘If you apply for Pension Credit to start on or after 15 May 2019, the new rules will apply…You can backdate an application for Pension Credit for up to 3 months, provided you would have been eligible for Pension Credit on the earlier date. You’ll need to apply by 13 August to be eligible from 14 May.’9
For HB, the official guidance is in the Adjudication Circular A3/2019, updated on 4 April. It summarises the changes, saying that: ‘From 15 May 2019, mixed age couples…will no longer be able to choose whether they claim Universal Credit or Pension Credit or pension age Housing Benefit. Both parties of a couple will have to reach the Pension Credit qualifying age [i.e., pension age] before they can be entitled to Pension Credit and/or pension age Housing Benefit’, subject to the savings rules. Regarding backdating, it says that ‘the normal rules on the 3 month time limit for claiming pension age Housing Benefit will apply. This means that claims made on or before 13 August 2019 can be backdated to before the rule change applies, provided the claimant meets the entitlement conditions applicable on the earlier date.’10
The official guidance gives a number of examples of the new rules in practice.
For PC, those include the following (presented in slightly amended versions here).11
New claim from a mixed-age couple
The claimant and partner have been continuously entitled to pension-age HB since December 2018. Following a drop in income, the claimant makes a new claim for PC. As they are still entitled to pension-age HB on the date their claim is made/treated as having been made, they are able to make a claim for PC.
No longer entitled to either PC or pension-age HB as part of the same mixed-age couple
The claimant and partner have been continuously entitled to PC and pension-age HB since November 2016. In October 2019, the partner starts a temporary job. Their total income takes them off both PC and pension-age HB. When the partner’s job ends, they reapply for PC and pension-age HB. However, as they have not been continuously entitled to one or other benefit since 14 May 2019, they are not able to requalify and need to make a new claim for UC. For HB, the examples include the following (presented in slightly amended versions here).12
New claim from a mixed-age couple on or after 15 May 2019
The claimant and partner have been continuously entitled to PC and pension-age HB since December 2018. The claimant and partner move to a new address in a new local authority area so their current HB claim closes. As they were entitled to PC on 14 May 2019 and continue to be entitled to it, they are able to make a new claim for pension-age HB.
Single pensioners who form a mixed-age couple
The claimant has been in receipt of PC and pension-age HB since November 2018. The claimant forms a couple with a person below the qualifying age (ie, below pension age) on 4 June 2019. This is a change of circumstances which ends the claimant’s entitlement to PC and pension-age HB. The couple must claim UC.
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- 1. The relevant amending rules are in The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.31 and Savings and Transitional Provisions and Commencement No.21 and 23 and Transitional and Transitory Provisions (Amendment)) Order 2019, No.37 (‘the No.31 Order’).
- 2. Rules in at least some places still refer to ‘the qualifying age for state pension credit’ rather than to pension age. But since the equalisation of pension ages for men and women, the qualifying age referred to there is in fact pension age.
- 3. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Commencement No.31 and Savings and Transitional Provisions (Amendment)) Order 2019, No.935. Official guidance in Housing Benefit Adjudication Circular A9/2019.
- 4. Article 4 of the No.31 Order
- 5. Article 5 of the No.31 Order, amending Article 6(3)(a) of the No.21 Order (SI 2015 No.33) and Article 7(4)(a) of the No.23 Order (SI 2015 No.634)
- 6. Article 6 of the No.31 Order
- 7. These are located in Article 6(11) of the No.21 Order and Article 7(2) of the No.23 Order, and are not amended in the May 2019 changes described in this article.
- 8. Memo DMG 07/19, para 2
- 9. Pension Credit: extra information, DWP, January 2019, p2
- 10. Housing Benefit Adjudication Circular A3/2019, paras 3 and 10
- 11. Memo DMG 01/10, para 7, examples 1 and 3
- 12. Housing Benefit Adjudication Circular A3/2019, para 7, example 1 and para 8, example 4