Low-income renters meeting certain eligibility criteria can apply for a one-time, tax-free $500 rent top-up starting today. The top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit, announced in September, is designed to give renters a much-needed boost, as interest rates and inflation continue to cast a dark shadow over affordability across the country.

The federal government estimates that 1.8 million Canadians are eligible for the benefit. Here’s what you need to know about qualifying and applying for the benefit.

Who can apply?

The payment, administered by the Canada Revenue Agency, comes with a checklist of stipulations. Applicants must be at least 15 years old as of December 1, 2022, and Canada must be their principal residence by that same cut-off. In addition, applicants -- as well as any spouse or common-law partner -- are required to have filed a 2021 income tax return or statement of income.

Finally, in 2021, eligible applicants must have had an adjusted net income below $20,000 (for individuals) and $35,000 (for families), and rent paid over the 2022 calendar year must equate to at least 30% of adjusted family net income for 2021.

A few other things to note about the benefit: you do not have to be eligible for any other housing benefits to qualify, and receiving the top-up will not reduce other federal income-tested benefits such as the Canada Workers Benefit, Canada Child Benefit, Goods and Services Tax Credit, and Guaranteed Income Supplement. Applications cannot be made on behalf of someone else.

You’re eligible -- now what?

The fastest way to apply for the benefit is online, through an application available on CRA My Account. Applicants that aren't already registered for a CRA My Account can do so by requesting a CRA user ID, or through a sign-in partner such as an online banking service. Residents of Alberta and British Columbia also have the option to sign in through a provincial partner such as a MyAlberta Digital ID or BC Services Card.

The government also advises setting up direct deposits with the CRA, which is the fastest way to receive payments. Applicants can opt to receive payments via mailed cheque.

Applicants should also be mindful that any information submitted -- income, rent paid, addresses, landlord information -- may be verified by the CRA, and any payments issued mistakenly will ultimately need to be repaid.

Applications are open today, December 12, until Friday, March 31, 2023. More information on the benefit can be found on the Government of Canada’s website.