Housing Benefit - Under Occupancy
From 1 April 2013 new rules came in for Housing Benefit. It affects working age tenants in the social rented sector (that is property let by a Local Authority or registered Housing Association).
The size criteria, also applied to people who rent from a private landlord, will be used to decide if you under occupy your home. If your home is too big for your needs, the amount of rent used to calculate how much Housing Benefit you’re entitled to will be cut by a fixed percentage.
Households will be allowed one bedroom for each of the following:
- A couple
- A person who is not a child (aged 16 and over)
- Two children of the same sex
- Two children who are under 10 – boys and girls are expected to share a room
- Any other child (other than a child whose main home is elsewhere)
Rates of reduction
Those considered to be under occupying will see a reduction in their Housing Benefit calculated by a reduction of:
- 14% of the total eligible rent for under occupation by one bedroom
- 25% of the total eligible rent for under occupation by two bedrooms or more
There is no definition of bedroom size in legislation. It will be up to the landlord to accurately describe the property/number of bedrooms, which is normally on the tenancy agreement.
Non standard cases
When calculating how many bedrooms a family unit requires, one room for a foster child will be included as long as they have fostered a child or become an approved foster carer within the last 52 weeks. Therefore a household that has an extra room for a current or potential foster child will not be treated as under occupying. Extra help is available under Discretionary Housing Payment to help foster carers. A foster child who remains with their foster carer after the age of 18 will be treated as a non dependent and included in the room calculation.
Parents with adult children in the armed forces (or reservists) who normally live with them
They will be able to retain the bedroom for that adult child when they are deployed on operations.
The removal of the spare room subsidy will not be applied to the eligible rent for that unoccupied bedroom, but the removal of the spare room subsidy may apply if they have other spare rooms.
A non-dependant deduction (i.e. the amount of money that someone is expected to pay towards household expenses if they work and continue to live at home) will not be taken whilst they are deployed.
The reform recognises the unique and immense contribution people in the armed forces make to their communities and wider society as a whole. As it has emerged that some may be penalised as a direct consequence of the reforms action was taken to address this.
Whether or not you are under-occupying will be determined in exactly the same way for a joint tenancy as any other.
We will need to determine the exact make up of the household as a whole of which you and your household forms a part. All occupants will be taken into account for the purposes of establishing under-occupation, whether or not they are claiming Housing Benefit.
If the total household is under occupying, the standard 14% or 25% reduction will be applied to the whole eligible rent which will then be apportioned between the joint tenants. This may then take account how they divide the rent between them where appropriate.
Boarders and Lodgers
A boarder or lodger will be taken into account. Therefore in a three bedroom house with a couple, their child and a lodger, the claimant would not be considered to be under-occupying and there would be no reduction in Housing Benefit due to under-occupancy.
Where parents who don’t live together have shared care of their children, the children are only treated as living with the parent that is treated as responsible for them and provides their main home. For a person to be treated as responsible for a child or young person, the child or young person must normally be living with that person. If a child or young person spends equal amounts of time in different households, or there is a question as to whom they normally live with, they will be treated as living with the person who is receiving child benefit for them. This is consistent with those living in the private rented sector.
The new size limit rules do not allow for this, unless the absence is temporary (less than thirteen weeks or 52 weeks for students) and the young person concerned intends to return home.
Cases NOT subject to a restriction:
The size criteria rules will not apply to shared ownership cases. This is where the claimant part owns the property under a shared ownership lease, usually with a housing association. You may well have a mortgage on your share of the property while renting the rest.
The size criteria rules will only apply to claimants of working age. Working age includes anyone who is under the State Pension age of the time. Any claimant over state pension qualifying age or with a partner over that age will be exempt from the size criteria rules from April 2013. Go to www.gov.uk/calculate-state-pension if you need to check when that is for you.
These include mooring charges for house boats and site charges for caravans and mobile homes as well as various ‘excluded tenancies’, that are not with a ‘registered housing association’, within schedule 2 to the Housing Benefit Regulations, such as private rented sector regulated tenancies.
Supported Exempt Accommodation
The size criteria rules will not be applied to those in supported exempt accommodation. This is a particular type of supported accommodation defined for Housing Benefit purposes as accommodation provided by a non-metropolitan county council in England, a housing association, a registered charity or voluntary organisation where that body or a person acting on its behalf provides the claimant with care, support or supervision.
What options are open to people to meet any shortfall?
You can decide to pay the difference in any shortfall from your own money.
Some options you may also consider are:
A claimant may be able to move to more appropriately sized accommodation with the help of their landlord. Speak to the Housing Association you’re renting from about this. If you are a council tenant, you can discuss your housing options with your local Area Housing Officer – telephone 0300-1234566. View further information about your housing options,. This will take you to our Housing and Property services part of this site.
Alternatively, social tenants affected by the under-occupation measure may choose to move to more suitably sized accommodation in the Private Rented Sector.
Take a boarder/lodger
With the agreement of your landlord a claimant may be able to take in a boarder or lodger to fill an unoccupied room. Any income from a boarder could have an effect on their Housing Benefit/Council Tax Reduction or other benefits.
Have family members contribute more
If there are non dependents living in the accommodation, the excess rent may be met through their new or increased contributions.
Move in to work/increase hours
This would increase a claimant’s income and help cover any reduction. Any increase in income may affect Housing Benefit/Council Tax Reduction..
Discretionary Housing Payments
You can apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment for temporary support to help you stay in your home.
A couple living in a three bedroom property with two children aged 1 and 3.
Rent = £75 per week.
Applying the size criteria means that the household is deemed to be under-occupying by one bedroom.
A 14% reduction of £10.50 is applied to the eligible rent of £75 resulting in maximum Housing Benefit entitlement of £64.50.
A four bedroom house is occupied by a couple, and 2 daughters aged 11 and 9.
Rent = £90 per week.
Applying the size criteria means that the household is deemed to be under occupying by 2 bedrooms.
The eligible rent of £90 is reduced by 25% to £67.50