Find out more about the bedroom tax, the part of welfare reform that will cut the amount of benefit that people can get if they are considered to have a spare bedroom.
Since 1 April 2013, welfare reforms have cut the amount of benefit that people can get if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home. This measure only applies to housing benefit claimants of working age, and is commonly referred to as the bedroom tax, size criteria, under-occupation penalty or removal of the spare room subsidy.
What do the changes mean?
The size criteria in the social rented sector restricts housing benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household, with the following exceptions:
- Two children under 16 of same gender expected to share
- Two children under 10 expected to share regardless of gender
- Disabled tenant or partner who needs non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom
- Approved foster carers will be allowed an additional room so long as they have fostered a child, or become an approved foster carer in the last 12 months
- Adult children in the Armed Forces will be treated as continuing to live at home when deployed on operations
- Disabled children who are unable to share a bedroom with a sibling because of their severe disabilities are allowed their own room.
Who will be affected?
All claimants who are deemed to have at least one spare bedroom will be affected. This includes:
- Separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who receives the extra benefit)
- Couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation
- Parents whose children visit but are not part of the household
- Disabled people including people living in adapted or specially designed properties.
Are there any other exemptions?
In January 2014, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) issued a circular (HB U1 2014) to local authorities saying that in cases where tenants have had a continuous claim for Housing Benefit since 1996 the size criteria rules should not have been applied. Continuous means for the same property (with some exceptions).
This means that affected tenants will be able to apply to their local authority to have their claim reassessed under the correct rules and will be able to receive money backdated to April 2013. It does not matter how many bedrooms are in the home. The DWP issued new regulations taking effect from 3 March 2014 to close this loophole, but tenants ca still apply now for a reassessment of their claim for the period April 2013 to March 2014.
This may apply to:
- Tenants receiving HB who are under pension age, who have lived at the same address since 1996, and who have been in receipt of HB throughout that time (with any break in HB not exceeding four weeks).
- Tenants who may have ‘inherited’ a claim for HB from family members living at the same property, provided that the current claimant has resided at the property since 1996 and provided that both the original and the current claimant, between them, have sustained a continuous claim throughout with any break not exceeding four weeks.
How much will people lose?
The cut is a fixed percentage of the Housing Benefit eligible rent. The reduction is 14% for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms.
The Government’s impact assessment shows that those affected will lose an average of £14 a week. Housing association tenants are expected to lose £16 a week on average.
How many people will see their benefit cut?
The proposal affects an estimated 660,000 working-age social tenants – 31% of existing working-age housing benefit claimants in the social sector. The majority of these people have only one extra bedroom.
Do the regulations define a bedroom?
Read our explanation for full details on room sizes.
How will the bedroom tax operate under Universal Credit?
There are some differences between how the bedroom tax will operate under housing benefit (from April 2013) and under Universal Credit. These differences are summarised in the table below.
|From April 2013||Under Universal Credit|
|Those over State Pension Credit age will not be affected, including where one member of a couple is over.||Mixed age couples - both will need to be over pension age to not be affected by the bedroom tax. Those where one is already in receipt of Pension Credit will however be protected.|
|Non-dependant deductions (NDD): six separate rates varying by income and under 25s on benefit are exempt.||One, flat-rate Housing Cost Contribution (HCC). All under 21s are exempt from HCC.|
|Non-dependants: couples get one room between them. They pay the NDD unless both are exempt.||Each adult non-dependent gets a room. Each pays the HCC unless exempt.|
|Lodgers get a room but income is taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit apart from first £20.||No room allowance but any income from lodgers is disregarded.|
|In joint tenancy cases the bedroom tax can still apply.||Bedroom tax not applied in non-couple joint- tenancy cases.|
|Protection on death for up to 52 weeks.||Benefits run-on for 3 months.|
|13 week protection where the tenant could previously afford the rent and Housing Benefit has not been claimed in the last 52 weeks.||Size criteria applies immediately.|
What about lodgers?
From April 2013 lodgers will count as occupying a room under the size criteria rules. Any income from a lodger will be taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit apart from the first £20. This reverses under Universal Credit – lodgers will not be counted as occupying a room and the size criteria reduction will apply, but any income from lodgers will be fully disregarded and will not impact on the amount of a claimant’s Universal Credit award.
DWP have produced a factsheet on things to consider when renting out a room. Taking in a lodger will also have an impact on many home contents insurance policies, potentially invalidating a policy or raising the premiums.
What about students studying away from home?
Households where there is a room kept for a student studying away from home will not be deemed to be under-occupying if the student is away for less than 52 weeks (under housing benefit) or 6 months (under Universal Credit) - and the local authority accepts that the household is still the student's main home.
Under housing benefit rules students are exempt from non-dependant deductions, however full-time students will not be exempt from the Housing Cost Contribution (HCC) which replaces non-dependent deductions under Universal Credit. All young people under 21 are exempt from the HCC, but students over 21 will face a contribution in the region of £15 per week.
Where can I find out more?
- Welfare Reform Act briefings
- Size criteria regulations
- DWP guidance for local authorities
- Making it Fit: a guide to preparing for the social sector size criteria
- DWP Impact Assessment – Under-occupation of social housing (PDF, opens in a new window)
- DWP Equality Impact Assessment – Social sector housing under-occupation (PDF, opens in a new window)