Make sense of the law and your rights

A survival guide to benefits and living together

This guide is for you if you receive benefits or tax credits. This information will also help if you are not living with your partner but a benefits office believes you are, if you moving in with your partner, or if your relationship has ended.
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A survival guide to Benefits and Living Together
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There are few things in this life more confusing and worrying than money issues. This guide is for you if you receive benefits or tax credits and live with an unamrried partner. We want to help you get what you are entitled to and avoid all the stress and upset that problems with benefits cause.

This information will also help if you are not living with your partner but a benefits office believes you are, if you moving in with your partner, or if your relationship has ended.

March 2015

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The information in this guide applies to England and Wales and is for general purposes only. The law may be different if you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

The law is complicated. We have simplified things in the guide to give you an idea of how the law applies to you. Please don't rely on this guide as a complete statement of the law or as a substitute for getting legal advice about what to do in the specific circumstances of your case.

The quotes and cases we refer to are not always real but show a typical situation. We hope they help you think about how to deal with your own situation.

If a benefits office believe you are living together...

This page is for you if you receive benefits or tax credits and are having trouble because a benefits office believes you are living with your partner as a couple when you aren't. We want to help you get what you are entitled to and avoid all the stress and upset that problems like this cause.

If you are living with your partner as a couple, you must claim any benefits as a couple. The benefits office will take both of your incomes and savings into account when working out if you are entitled to benefits.

What counts as living together?

You do not count as living together unless you are living together in the same home as a couple.

People are often told that if their partner stays over 2 or 3 nights a week that it counts as living together. It does not. Others are told that if they are still living with their ex, even though they are not a couple, that they must still claim benefits as a couple – this is also not true. If you have been told something different by the DWP, HMRC, or housing benefit office, don’t panic. We will show you how to sort it out.

My partner stays the night a lot but we haven’t moved in together…

Just because your partner stays the night with you, even if they stay most nights, it doesn’t mean you are living together. If your partner still has a home somewhere else where he or she pays bills and keeps their things, then s/he clearly doesn’t live with you.

If you have been contacted by a benefits office because they believe you are living with your partner when they haven’t actually moved in, you will need to show them that your partner doesn’t live with you. Usually the easiest thing to do is to prove s/he lives somewhere else. Give the benefits office evidence of any rent, mortgage, council tax, or other bills s/he pays at their home. If your partner has a driving license or is the registered owner of a car, these documents are excellent evidence as you are legally required to keep the address on them up to date. Evidence of important post like phone bills or bank statements that are sent to their home address will also help.

When you give the agency the evidence, get a receipt or if you are posting it get a certificate of posting from the post office (this is free). If your benefits have been stopped, ask for them to be reinstated. Ask how long that will take and make a note of it, along with the name of the person you spoke to and the time and date. If your benefits aren’t reinstated by the date you were given, phone the agency and chase it up.

We have split up but still share the same home as we can’t afford to move out...

Depending on your circumstances, one or both of you should make a new claim in their name only. You will need to prove that you are no longer living as a couple. This means that, although you are both still living in the same home, you no longer sleep in the same room, eat together, buy food together, do each other’s washing or ironing, or pay for things as a couple (for example, you should be able to show that you pay your half of the rent etc, even if you are paying it to your ex). If you used to have a joint bank account, you should close it. You should let your friends and acquaintances know that you are no longer a couple.

It can feel like it makes very little sense to live like this, particularly if you have children together, but this is how you have to make it work if you are to be entitled to benefits.
It can be quite difficult to prove some of these things. You should expect a benefits officer to come round to check on your arrangements. If you have difficulty convincing the benefits office of your situation, get help from an adviser.

We have split up and moved out...

If you have split up and now live in separate accommodation, make a new claim in separate names. Use the calculator on the Turn2us website to work out what help you might each be entitled to (Benefits calculator).

If you were claiming any benefits as a couple, inform the relevant office you have split up and are making a new claim in your own name.

I’m moving in with my partner – will I lose benefits?

You might do. If you are receiving means-tested benefits your partner’s earnings and savings will be added to yours when they work out if you are entitled to benefit, and how much. So if your partner earnsa good wage you are likely to get less benefit or none at all. Similarly, if your partner earns the top rate of tax you won’t be entitled to Child Benefit.

If each of you brings children from a previous relationship to the new family, only one child can count as the eldest for child benefit purposes. This is important because you receive an extra amount (£6.95 in 2014-15) for the eldest child.

Do you get means-tested benefits?

Means-tested benefits are: Income Support, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction, Pension Credit, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, and Universal Credit.

If you have been receiving Bereavement Allowance following the death of your husband, wife or civil partner, your payments will stop when you move in with a new partner. If your relationship ends however, your claim can be re-instated. Bereavement Allowance stops when you reach State Pension age anyway.

If you are unsure what effect moving in with your partner might have on your benefits see an adviser or use the Benefits calculator on the Turn2us website and answer the questions as if you have moved in. 

Would I be better of being married or in a civil partnership rather than living with my partner?

There are some circumstances when you may be entitled to less help than if you were married or in a civil partnership. This is because benefits based on National Insurance contributions treat unmarried couples differently from married couples. For most people however it makes little or no difference. Whether it will make a difference to you depends on how good your state pensions are and the unknowable - whether you will die before or after you reach state pension age. If one of you has a low state pension entitlement because you haven’t/didn’t work for many years (and it wasn’t because you were looking after children) you may be better off if you married/formed a civil partnership. If you are worried by this issue, see an adviser.

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