Under occupation

In April 2013 the Government cut housing benefit for people of working age living in a property with more bedrooms than they were entitled to. They introduced a size criteria for housing benefit claimants living in a council or housing association property.

This is sometimes referred to as the:

  • Bedroom Tax
  • Under Occupation Penalty
  • Removal of the spare room subsidy
Will I be affected?

Your benefit may be reduced if:

  • You’re aged between 16 and the State Pension Age
  • You get Housing Benefit (or the housing element of Universal Credit)
  • You’re classed as having more bedrooms than you need.

You will not be affected if you – or your partner – are over the qualifying age for Pension Credit .  (Under Universal Credit, you will both need to be over Pension Credit age to be exempt).

What is the size criteria?

The criteria allows one bedroom for:-

  • A couple
  • A person aged between 16 years of age
  • Two children of the same gender under 16 years of age
  • Two children under 10 years of age regardless of their gender
  • If you or your partner need regular overnight care from someone who does not normally live with you.

Spare bedrooms are NOT allowed for:

  • Parents who are separated and share the care of children. The parent who has legal responsibility for the children, usually the one who receives the child benefit will be considered to be the main carer for the children and they will receive the extra benefit.
  • Children who visit their parent but are not part of the household.
  • Couples who prefer to sleep in separate bedrooms or use their “spare” bedroom when recovering from an illness.
  • To store medical equipment.
  • To allow grandchildren to stay overnight.

Are there any exemptions?

  • Children with severe disabilities who need a room of their own will not be required to share a room. Housing benefits will need to decide if an extra room is needed based on whether a disability living allowance has been awarded with the care component at a middle or higher level and how much another child’s sleep will be disturbed if they share a room.
  • Approved Foster Carers are allowed an extra bedroom – This applies even if you are between placements, so long as you have fostered a child, or you’ve become an approved foster carer in the last 12 months.
  • Supported Accommodation – If you receive care, support or supervision from your landlord in supported exempt accommodation your Housing Benefit isn’t affected.
  • Temporary Accommodation – If your council has put you in temporary accommodation because you were homeless your Housing Benefit may not be affected.
  • Recent Bereavement – If you have a spare room as a result of a death in your household , the reduction in your Housing Benefit will not apply for 52 weeks. (Under Universal Credit this will be for three months.)
How the size criteria affects the rent you pay?

If you’re affected, your Housing Benefit (or the housing element of Universal Credit) will be cut by the following percentage:

  • 14% of the rent for one extra bedroom
  • 25% of the rent for two or more extra bedrooms.

The reduction is made before the housing benefit award is assessed and you will have to pay any shortfall in your housing benefit.

For example: If your rent is £80 a week your housing benefit/ Universal Credit will be cut by £11.20 or £20 a week and you will have to pay this shortfall from your other income.

What happens with Joint Tenancies?

When a joint tenancy is held between a couple there is one claim for housing benefit. The award is based on the whole rent and any reduction will be applied according to the size criteria.

When a joint tenancy is held by tenants who are not a couple, for example 2 brothers or a mother and daughter, each tenant can make a claim for housing benefit for their proportion of the rent. Any reduction because of under-occupation will be applied to the full eligible rent before the rent is apportioned between each tenant.

It is important to remember in a joint tenancy each named person is jointly responsible for paying the full rent. If one joint tenant fails to pay, the other tenant remains responsible for making sure the full rent is paid.

Under Occupation Calculator

You can find out how many bedrooms you’re entitled to by using the bedroom calculator.

What can I do if I am affected?

If you are affected by the size criteria and your housing benefit is reduced your options are limited but you can:-