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Bedroom Tax

The Housing Benefit Size Criteria Rules have been in place since April 2013, and are commonly referred to as the ‘bedroom tax‘, or the 'spare room subsidy' as named by the government.


This information applies to people living in England, Wales & Scotland. The 'bedroom tax' will apply in Northern Ireland in 2017 however due to mitigation measures the financial impact of the 'bedroom tax' should not be felt by those in Northern Ireland until at least 2020 - contact Carers NI for further information on 028 9043 9843 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


The 'bedroom tax' means that working age people who get help towards their rent through Housing Benefit can have the amount they receive restricted if they are considered to have too many bedrooms.

Similar rules will also apply to people who claim Universal Credit. This is the benefit that is gradually replacing a number of existing benefits, including Housing Benefit.

Note: On 27th January 2016 the Court of Appeal accepted that the ‘bedroom tax’ unlawfully discriminates against disabled children requiring overnight care, as it does not allow for an additional bedroom for their overnight carer. The government appealed the decision, however on 9th November 2016 this appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court.The Government must now act to amend the regulations to allow an additional bedroom for disabled children who require overnight care. If you are in this situation see the section called “Do you have a ‘spare’ bedroom for overnight care provided to a child?’ for further information.

Note:  Also on 9th November 2016 the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a couple who cannot share a bedroom due to health reasons. Again, the Government must now act to amend the regulations to allow an additional bedroom for couples who cannot share a bedroom due to health reasons. If you are in this situation see the section called "Do you have a 'spare' bedroom because you and your partner are unable to sleep in the same bedroom due to health reasons?" for further information.

READ THE LATEST NEWS ON THE 'BEDROOM TAX'


Who does the 'bedroom tax' affect?

The 'bedroom tax' affects working age Housing Benefit claimants who rent social housing.

Working age claimants are claimants who are under the state pension credit age. The state pension credit age is the qualifying age for Pension Credit. The qualifying age for Pension Credit is rising steadily. When you reach the qualifying age depends on your date of birth.

Social housing includes properties rented from a council or a housing association.

If you are renting from a private landlord your Housing Benefit will already be restricted by the same size criteria rules and the "bedroom tax" will not apply.

It will also not apply if your home is temporary accommodation (made available by a local authority for homeless households).

People who own a share of their home and pay rent on the remaining share will not be affected by the size criteria rules.

‘bedroom tax’ and pensioners

The ‘bedroom tax’ applies where both members of a couple are under the state pension credit age. Couples where one person is working age and the other is over the state pension credit age will not be affected.

However, this will change for some claimants under Universal Credit. If either member in a couple is under the state pension credit age when a new claim is made, the couple will be treated as working age and will therefore be subject to the size criteria rules.

Couples where one person is working age and the other is over the state pension credit age who are already claiming Pension Credit when the changes come in will not be affected (unless or until there is a break in their Pension Credit claim for some reason).

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What are the size criteria rules?

The size criteria rules limit the number of bedrooms that you can have in your home and still get all of your eligible rent paid. If you have more rooms than are allowed by the size criteria rules you are considered to
be under-occupying.

The rules will restrict Housing Benefit to allow for one bedroom for:

  • a person over 16
  • a couple
  • two children of the same sex under 16
  • two children who are under 10
  • any other child (other than a foster child or child whose main home is elsewhere)
  • a non-resident carer (or group of carers) providing overnight care to the tenant or their partner where this is considered to be required
  • a disabled child who is in receipt of the middle or higher rate care component of Disability Living Allowance, where the local authority decision maker is satisfied that the child cannot reasonably share a room
  • an adult child who is in the Armed Forces, including the Reserve Forces, but who continue to live with parents (note: they are treated as continuing to live at home, even when deployed on operations)
  • approved foster carers (and formal kinship carers in Scotland) so long as they have fostered a child, or become an approved foster carer in the last 12 months

Note: See notes above regarding disabled children who require overnight care, and couples who cannot share a bedroom due to health reasons.

How much will Housing Benefit be restricted by?

Where households are seen to be under-occupying because they have ‘spare’ bedrooms according to the size criteria rules, they will see a reduction in their Housing Benefit. Their 'eligible rent' (the figure used to calculate Housing Benefit) will be reduced by:

  • 14% for one extra bedroom
  • 25% for two or more extra bedrooms

Examples of under-occupancy:

  • A father with two daughters under 16 living in a three bedroom house would be under-occupying by one bedroom, because the rules would say the daughters should share, and so he would have a reduction in his 'eligible rent' (the figure used to calculate Housing Benefit) of 14%.
  • A couple with two sons aged 10 and a daughter aged 11 in a three bedroom house would not be under-occupying.
  • A working age couple who have two bedrooms because they need to sleep separately due to health problems would be under-occupying by one bedroom, and so would have a reduction in their 'eligible rent' (the figure used to calculate Housing Benefit) of 14% - although see note above about couples who cannot share a bedroom due to health reasons.
  • A family with one disabled child and three bedrooms, one of which is used for storing the equipment the disabled child uses, would be under-occupying by one bedroom and so would have a reduction in their 'eligible rent' (the figure used to calculate Housing Benefit) of 14%.

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When do the size criteria rules allow for an extra room for overnight care?

If a Housing Benefit claimant (and/or their partner) requires overnight care from a non-resident carer(s), they will be allowed one additional bedroom. Even when both the claimant and partner require overnight care, only additional bedroom is allowed.

Who counts as ‘requiring’ overnight care?

To count as ‘requiring’ overnight care, arrangements need to be in place for you (or your partner) to receive regular overnight care by one or more people who do not live with you, and for them to be provided with the use of an additional bedroom to those used by other people who live with you.
 
Also, you must satisfy the local authority that you or (s/he) reasonably requires this care and meet(s) one of the following conditions:
 
  • you (or s/he) is getting Attendance Allowance (AA), the middle
    rate or highest rate care component of Disability Living Allowance
    (DLA), either rate of the daily living component of Personal
    Independence Payment (PIP) or Armed Forces Independent
    Payment (AFIP); or
  • you (s/he) have provided the local authority with sufficient
    certificates, documents, information or evidence to satisfy it that
    overnight care is required (see note below)

Note: You can count as a person who requires overnight care even if you are not actually living in your home, provided you can be treated as occupying it – for example while you are temporarily absent from home.

Who counts as a carer?

At the time of writing, the law is not clear about whether a ‘non-resident carer’ means a paid care worker or a carer. Carers UK believes that it is reasonable to argue that the term should apply to both.

Also, the law does not specify whether it has to be the same carer or carers that provide the care. So, if different members of a family take turns to stay over with an older relative or if care is sometimes provided by a combination of family, friends or paid care workers, Carers UK believes this should not cause a problem.

How often must they care?

The law states that the claimant or their partner needs to require ‘regular’ overnight care. ‘Regular’ has not been defined in terms a specific amount of care, but it has been said to mean the same as ‘commonly’, ‘habitually’ or ‘customarily’.

The test for whether someone requires ‘regular’ overnight care is if the need for the care arises often and steadily enough to require that a bedroom be kept for this purpose. Therefore, someone who needs overnight care every night all of the time would obviously pass the test, but the law is also clear that the test can be passed in situations where care is only provided on a minority of nights, so long as an extra bedroom is needed for this purpose (for example, this might apply where someone with a health problem only needs care on bad nights).

If you need an extra room for a carer and this has been refused always challenge the decision.

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Do you have a 'spare' bedroom for overnight care provided to a child?

On 27th January 2016 the Court of Appeal accepted that the 'bedroom tax' unlawfully discriminates against disabled children requiring overnight care, as it does not allow for an additional bedroom for their overnight carer.

In the case a couple were caring for their severely disabled grandson, who also needed carers to stay overnight as he required 24 hour care.

The current rules for the 'bedroom tax' allow an extra bedroom where the claimant or their partner has a need for overnight care, and so have carers who need use of a bedroom (see above). However this rule does not apply to children who need overnight carers.

The Court of Appeal had decided that this amounts to unlawful discrimination. The government appealed this decision, however on 9th November 2016 this appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court. The government must now act to amend the regulations to allow an additional bedroom for disabled children who require overnight care.

If you are subject to the 'bedroom tax' but think you should not be because of this decision, then if you have not done so already you should appeal against the decision to restrict your Housing Benefit, or ask for it to be reviewed.

You will need to do this in writing by sending a letter to your local council that pays your Housing Benefit.

You can quote the decision of the Supreme Court – the case is called R (on the application of Rutherford and another) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Appellant).

If you have already appealed on this basis, then there is the possibility that your appeal (if successful) could be backdated to the date you lodged your appeal, instead of the date of the Supreme Court judgement (9th November 2016).

The regulations are yet to be amended, and so it is not yet known what conditions will have to be met to be allowed an additional bedroom on this basis. This page will be updated when more details are known.

You should also ask for a Discretionary Housing Payment to cover any reduction in your Housing Benefit due to the 'bedroom tax'.

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Do you have a 'spare' bedroom because you and your partner are unable to sleep in the same bedroom due to health reasons?

In the case called MA and Ors v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions a couple argued that they should be allowed an extra bedroom because they were unable to share a bedroom due to the health conditions of one member of the couple.

In both the high court and the Court of Appeal it has been decided that it is lawful to only allow one bedroom for a couple even if they cannot share a bedroom due to health reasons. However an appeal against this decision was heard at the Supreme Court on 29th February to 2nd March 2016. On 9th November 2016 the Supreme Court ruled in favour of this case, and an additional bedroom will be allowed for this couple.

If you are subject to the ‘bedroom tax’ but are in this situation, then it you have not done so already you should appeal against the decision to restrict your Housing Benefit, or ask for it to be reviewed.

You will need to do this in writing by sending a letter to your local council that pays your Housing Benefit.

You can use “argument 3” in the toolkit below, quoting the decision of the Supreme Court - the case is called R (on the application of Carmichael and Rourke) (formerly known as MA and others) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Respondent).

If you have already appealed on this basis, then there is the possibility that your appeal (if successful) could be backdated to the date you lodged your appeal, instead of the date of the Supreme Court judgement (9th November 2016).

The regulations are yet to be amended, and so it is not yet known what conditions will have to be met to be allowed an additional bedroom on this basis. This page will be updated when more details are known.

You should also ask for a Discretionary Housing Payment to cover any reduction in your Housing Benefit due to the ‘bedroom tax’.

VIEW THE 'BEDROOM TAX' TOOLKIT

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Will Housing Benefit always be restricted?

Yes – if you have more rooms than the size criteria rules allow your Housing Benefit will be restricted. It does not matter what the spare room is being used for so this will still affect you even if:

  • you use a spare bedroom to store equipment used because of a disability
  • you have a spare room for when your child stays with you but their main residence is at another address

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What counts as a bedroom?

In the legislation the Government has not defined what counts as a bedroom in terms of size, or whether rooms such as dining rooms could be counted as bedrooms. The Government has said it will be up to the landlord to say how many bedrooms the property has and this is normally stated on a tenancy agreement.

However there is no harm in setting out other factors that you feel should be taken into account when determining what should or should not be classed as a bedroom. For example consider the layout and overall dimensions of the room; access; natural and electric lighting; ventilation and privacy.

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What can I do if the 'bedroom tax' applies to me?

The Government has provided a list of suggestions for people who have the ‘bedroom tax’ applied to them. Their suggestions include:

  • moving to a property with fewer bedrooms
  • paying the shortfall in Housing Benefit by taking in a lodger
  • taking up work or increasing your working hours

Clearly these suggestions may not be reasonable options for many if not most carers. If you do decide that any of these suggestions might work for you then consider the following:

  • Your housing association or local council may help you to move to smaller accommodation by helping you arrange a mutual swap or by paying for moving costs and expenses.
  • Whether you can rent out a spare room to a lodger will depend on your tenancy agreement so speak to your housing association or council housing office first. You should also check how any rent you charge might affect your benefits. The rent will be counted as income but some of this can be disregarded.
  • If you can take up work or increase your hours (which will not be possible for many carers), make sure you get a benefit check to make sure you are claiming all the in-work benefits you are entitled to.

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Discretionary Housing Payments

What are Discretionary Housing Payments?

If you are not able to pay the extra rent or move to a smaller property – for example, because you have a specially adapted house or you depend on local informal support – you can apply for Discretionary Housing Payments from your local council.

Discretionary Housing Payments are funded by a limited sum of money and most councils will not award Discretionary Housing Payment on an ongoing basis. Therefore, these payments may only be a temporary help while you look to find another solution to the problem.

However the council must not have blanket policy about how and who it will award to and for how long. It should treat each case on case by case basis, but must act consistently. Government guidance has stated that Discretionary Housing Payments should be specifically aimed at some groups of people including:

  • ”disabled people living in significantly adapted accommodation, including any adaptations made for disabled children...” The guidance goes on to say that “it will sometimes be more cost-effective for them to remain in their current accommodation rather than moving them into smaller accommodation which needs to be adapted.”
  • “where there has been no significant adaptation to a property, but a member of the household has a long term medical condition that creates difficulties in sharing a bedroom”
  • “where an additional bedroom is needed for a non-resident carer who is providing overnight care to a disabled child or non-dependant”

The Guidance also gives some examples of groups of people that might benefit from staying in their home, and therefore receive a DHP to enable them to do so. Including: 

  • "people with health or medical problems who need access to local medical services or support that might not be available elsewhere;
  • disabled people who receive informal care and support in their current neighbourhood from family and friends which would not be available in a new area. In this respect you may also consider families who have a child with an impairment who rely heavily on local support networks;
  • the elderly or frail who have lived in the area for a long time and would find it difficult to establish support networks in a new area;"

If the ‘bedroom tax’ applies to you, or the person you are looking after, you should apply to your local council for a Discretionary Housing Payment. You can also apply if you are privately renting and affected by the Local Housing Allowance rules because of the number of bedrooms housing benefit will pay for.

You should also apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment if you are appealing a decision about needing an extra bedroom for a carer or because you have a disabled child in the family who needs an extra room, as an appeal can take some time and this will help you not to fall into rent arrears.

In Scotland, the Scottish Government are providing additional funding to help people affected by the ‘bedroom tax’, including more money for Discretionary Housing Payments. It has been wrongly reported as the “bedroom tax being scrapped in Scotland”, but what in fact is happening is that anyone affected can apply for assistance to offset the 'bedroom tax'. So if you are a tenant in social housing and are affected by the 'bedroom tax' you must apply for this help. You must engage with your landlord and apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment as soon as possible to enable you to pay the shortfall in your rent. And you should do so even if you have been refused a Discretionary Housing Payment in the past.

Completing the Discretionary Housing Payment Form

The Discretionary Housing Payment form will ask for reasons why you are unable to secure smaller/cheaper accommodation and will also ask for a breakdown of your finances in order to see if you can reasonably afford to pay the shortfall.

Give as much information as you can around why it is hard for you to move to a smaller/cheaper property and what you have done to try and find this accommodation. It might be that there are important services nearby that you or the person you care for need to be able to access.

Focus on why you are struggling to pay the rent shortfall, for example if the amount needed to make up your rent shortfall causes you and your family financial hardship. Explain if you have debts to pay and how you are trying to manage that. Have you looked at other ways to meet the shortfall, for example by cutting non-essential spending, making sure everyone in the household contribute if they can.

Evidence of illness or disability can be provided to help evidence the problems you may have in moving.

We understand that some local authorities are taking disability benefits such as Disability Living Allowance & Personal Independent Payment into account when assessing the ability to pay the shortfall in the rent that the Housing Benefit does not cover.

However local authorities need to take into account the purpose of that income and to assess this in a fair way when making their decision. Therefore it would be useful for you to set out any extra costs that are incurred because of the disability of the person in the household.

For example the disability benefit may help pay for extra heating or water costs, laundry and specialist washing powders, special dietary requirements or clothing and footwear, extra bedding, for example, because of incontinence, garden maintenance, private cleaning, or domestic help, if needed because of disability and not provided by social services, privately arranged care services, including respite care or the purchase, maintenance and repair of disability related equipment.

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Challenging the decision

If you are affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ you will have received a letter from your council telling you about the decision. You have one month from the date of the letter to challenge the decision. 

You should write a letter to the council containing your full name, address, National Insurance number, reference number (this should be at the top of your decision letter) and the date of their decision. In your letter you should try to explain clearly why you think the decision is wrong and include any relevant evidence.

If you’re able to, you should hand the letter in to the council’s offices and get a receipt that includes the date on which you handed over the letter. However, if you decide to post the letter, make sure you get a certificate of posting, use recorded delivery or keep a note of the date of posting, along with a photocopy of all papers you submit.

We have put together a 'bedroom tax' toolkit to help you challenge a 'bedroom tax' decision.

VIEW THE 'BEDROOM TAX' TOOLKIT

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