This information applies to people living in England, Wales and Scotland. In Northern Ireland, for further information contact Carers NI (028 9043 9843 / email@example.com) or the Welfare Changes Helpline – 0808 802 0020.
What is the Bedroom Tax?
If you’re of working age, renting a home with a spare bedroom and receiving Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit, it’s likely your benefit will be reduced. This is known as the Bedroom Tax. It’s also called the under-occupancy charge or the removal of the spare room subsidy.
In Scotland, you should apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) through your local council if you’re affected by the bedroom tax. The Scottish government has guaranteed payments to make sure eligible residents are not worse off.
If you live in Northern Ireland, the money you lose from the bedroom tax is currently being replaced from a separate fund called a welfare supplementary payment This means you won’t lose out financially. For further information, contact the Welfare Changes Helpline on 0808 802 0020.
The Housing Benefit size criteria rules explained
You will be affected if all the following apply:
- You’re classed as having a spare bedroom.
- You’re aged between 16 and State Pension age.
- You rent from your local council or housing association.
- You get Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit.
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.
For Housing Benefit and the Housing Element of Universal Credit, there are rules about who is allowed a bedroom and what they will pay. If you have any other bedrooms, they will be classed as spare. The rules around what counts as a spare bedroom can be complicated, so call our Helpline if you’re not sure.
You’re allowed one bedroom for:
- an adult over 16
- a couple
- two children of the same sex under 16
- two children under 10
- any other child (for example, if you have three children under 10).
There are exemptions for disabled people. You can have an additional room for the following:
- A disabled child who gets the middle or higher rate care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and whose disability means they can’t share a room.
- A disabled adult who gets the higher rate of Attendance Allowance, the middle or higher rate care component of DLA, the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment or Armed Forces Independence Payment, and whose disability means they can’t share a room with their partner.
- Carers who come in to provide overnight care.
There are other exemptions too (for example):
- You’re also allowed an additional room if you’re a foster carer (approved kinship carer in Scotland), even if you’re between placements.
- Rooms used by students or members of the armed forces won’t be counted as spare if they’re away and intend to return home.
- If you have been affected by domestic violence.
- If you have a spare room because someone you live with has died, their room won’t be counted as spare for 52 weeks for Housing Benefit (or three months if you have an existing Universal Credit claim). Note, the three months’ protection only applies if the claimant was already on Universal Credit before the death.
The extra bedroom is allowed for:
- A disabled child who is receiving the middle or higher rate care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), where the local authority decision maker is satisfied that because of their disability, the child cannot reasonably share a bedroom.
- A disabled adult who is receiving the higher rate of Attendance Allowance, the middle or the higher rate of the care component of DLA, either rate of the daily living component of PIP or Armed Forces Independence Payment, where the local authority decision maker is satisfied that because of their disability, they cannot reasonably share a bedroom with their partner (from April 2017).
- 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 non-resident carer (or group of carers) providing overnight care to a child or non-dependant adult where this is considered to be required (from April 2017).
- An adult child who is in the Armed Forces, including the Reserve Forces, but who continues 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.
If a disabled adult or child needs regular overnight care from a carer who doesn’t live with you, then you are allowed a spare bedroom. The disabled person must be getting one of the disability benefits listed above, or at least the lower rate of Attendance Allowance. For Housing Benefit, if the person isn’t getting a disability benefit, the council can accept alternative evidence that an overnight carer is needed - such as a letter from their GP.
The overnight care could come from a carer or a paid care worker. It doesn’t have to be the same carer each time either, for example if different relatives take it in turns to stay with an older relative, or if care is provided by a combination of friends, relatives and paid care workers.
If more than one person needs an overnight carer, you are still only allowed one additional bedroom.
Susan and Jenny are sisters who take it in turns to stay overnight with their mum, who lives alone. She receives the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment and regularly needs help with personal care at night. Their mum has two bedrooms – one more than she would usually be allowed – but her Housing Benefit isn’t affected as she is allowed a spare bedroom for them to stay in.
If you have spare bedrooms, your eligible rent (the figure used to calculate your benefit) will be reduced by:
- 14% if you have one spare bedroom
- 25% if you have two or more spare bedrooms.
- A father with two daughters under 16, living in a three bedroom house, would be classed as having one spare bedroom because the rules would say the daughters should share. He would have a reduction in his eligible rent of 14%
- A family with one disabled child and three bedrooms, one of which is used for storing the equipment the disabled child uses, would be classed as having one spare bedroom. They would have a reduction in their eligible rent of 14%.
We understand that this may pose considerable difficulties for some and that not all of the suggestions below will be suitable. If you would like further support on your options, do not hesitate to contact our Helpline for further guidance: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Consider applying for 'Discretionary Housing Payments' - see the question below.
- Request a benefit check to see if there are any other benefits you may be entitled to by emailing our Helpline team: email@example.com
The government has provided a list of suggestions for people who have the ‘bedroom tax’ applied to them. Their suggestions include:
- Paying the shortfall in Housing Benefit by taking in a lodger (this does not apply to Universal Credit where a lodger’s room is still treated as ‘spare’ but the income you get from the lodger is ignored).
- Taking up work or increasing your working hours.
- Moving to a property with fewer bedrooms - if this is something you are in a position to do. Seek support from your council or trust.
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 as 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 benefits check to make sure you are claiming all the in-work benefits you are entitled to.
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 local council must not have a blanket policy about how and who it will award to and for how long. It should treat each case on a case by case basis, but they 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.”
The guidance also gives some examples of groups of people that might benefit from staying in their home, and therefore receive a Discretionary Housing Payment 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...
- 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 should also apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment if you are appealing a decision about needing an extra bedroom, as an appeal can take some time and this will help you not to fall into rent arrears.
Note: 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”. 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 get in touch with your landlord and apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment as soon as possible to enable you to pay the shortfall in your rent. It is a good idea to do so even if you have been refused a Discretionary Housing Payment in the past.
The Discretionary Housing Payment form will ask for reasons why you are unable to secure smaller 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 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, perhaps 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. Explain if you have looked at other ways to meet the shortfall, for example by cutting non-essential spending and/or making sure everyone in the household contributes if they can.
Providing evidence of illness or disability could help to prove the problems you may have in moving.
We understand that some local councils are taking disability benefits such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independent Payment (PIP) into account when assessing people's ability to pay the shortfall in the rent that the Housing Benefit or Universal Credit housing costs element does not cover.
However local councils 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.
You can challenge a decision about the Bedroom Tax. The most common reason for appealing is because someone in your home needs an overnight carer.
If you get Housing Benefit, you will need to write to your local council or trust within a month of the date of their decision. You’ll need to explain why you think their decision is wrong and send any relevant evidence.
If you can, hand your letter in and get a receipt showing the date you delivered it. If you post it, get a certificate of posting, use recorded delivery or make a note of the date you sent it. Keep a copy of everything you send – these days, it may also be possible to photograph documents and email them.
If you receive Universal Credit, you’ll need to ask for a mandatory reconsideration of the decision before you can make an appeal.
Working age people are those who are under State Pension age. If you are in a couple and one of you is State Pension age and one is working age, you will be considered to be a working age couple and will be affected by the 'bedroom tax', unless you are already claiming Pension Credit or pension age Housing Benefit. You can find out your state pension credit age here.
Social housing includes properties rented from a council or housing association. However you will not be affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ if your home is temporary accommodation (made available by a local council for homeless households)