'Bedroom tax'

Help with rent

If you or your partner are responsible for paying the rent at the home you live in, you may be able to get help with these rent costs.

People who have been claiming for some time get a benefit called housing benefit from their local council (Housing Executive in Northern Ireland). However most people cannot make a new claim for housing benefit. This is because it has been replaced by Universal Credit. If you are a renter who claims Universal Credit, you may get extra Universal Credit payments towards your rent costs instead.

Special rules allow people who live in supported accommodation and some disabled adults who qualify for a payment called the severe disability premium to make new claims for housing benefit. Contact our free helpline for further advice if this applies to you.

Both housing benefit and Universal Credit are means tested. This means that the amount of help that you will get depends on your family circumstances, including your income and savings.  

However the amount of help that you get also depends on the number of bedrooms in your property. This is because of rules better known as 'the bedroom tax'.

What is the bedroom tax?  

If you are a council or housing association tenant, your housing benefit will be cut if you have more bedrooms than your family is seen as needing. This is commonly described as 'the bedroom tax'. These rules also apply to help with rent under the Universal Credit system.

How many bedrooms am I treated as needing?

Your local council uses rules that are known as the 'size criteria'. For housing benefit/Universal Credit purposes, the following are expected to share one room:

  • Every adult couple (unless a couple are unable to share a bedroom - see below).
  • Two children of the same sex under 16.
  • Two children aged under 10 (regardless of their sex).

The following are treated as needing their own room:

  • Every single adult aged 16 or over.
  • A child who is unable to share a bedroom due to their disability and who qualifies for Disability Living Allowance care component at the middle or highest rate.
  • A carer (or team of carers) providing overnight care to a disabled person (including a disabled child)

You are exempt from the bedroom tax if you are a pensioner or live in a shared ownership property or certain types of support accommodation. 

How much is your benefit cut by?

If you under-occupy by one bedroom then the help you get with rent is cut by a figure that is equivalent to 14 per cent of your rent. If you under-occupy by two or more bedrooms then the cut is 25 per cent.

There is no definition of a 'bedroom' in the rules, and your benefit office is likely to treat you as having the number of bedrooms that your landlord says you have.  

Size criteria rules for private tenants

Although the 'bedroom tax' is specific to council and housing association tenants, the size criteria rules are used to decide housing benefit/Universal Credit rates for private tenants.

For example, if you rent a private property with three bedrooms but under size criteria rules are only entitled to two bedrooms, your  benefit will be capped at the two bedroom rate for your area.

Separate bedrooms for children with disabilities

A disabled child will be allowed a separate bedroom in your housing benefit/Universal Credit calculation if both :

  • They receive DLA care component at the middle or highest rate.
  • Your housing benefit office accepts that their disability prevents them from sharing.

This applies regardless of whether you rent from the council, a housing association or a private landlord.

You will need to provide the office paying you housing benefit/Universal Credit with details of why your child's condition prevents them from sharing. You may be expected to provide medical evidence.

A bedroom needed by an overnight carer

You will be allowed an extra bedroom in your housing benefit or Universal credit calculation if it is used by a carer coming into your home to provide overnight care for a disabled child. This applies where your disabled child is your dependent and also to cases where the child is a disabled adult. 

You must show that your child both needs and gets regular overnight care, and you must also normally show that your child also gets either Disability Living Allowance care component at the middle/highest rate or the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment. If they do not receive one of these benefits then your housing benefit office can use their discretion to allow an extra bedroom so long as they are satisfied that overnight care is needed. However, the Universal Credit office cannot use its discretion in this way.

Unfortunately housing benefit rules do not currently allow an extra room for other reasons linked to disability, for example to store disability equipment.

Children with 'looked after' status

A child cannot usually be treated as part of your household if they have 'looked after' status.

However, if your child has come home for part of the week (for example, at the weekend), your housing benefit office has the power to treat your child as if they have been part of your family for the whole week. This may mean your housing benefit then covers an extra bedroom for them in that week.

Your housing benefit office will take into account the nature and the frequency of your child's visits home when deciding if it's reasonable to do this.

Couples who cannot share a bedroom

From 1 April 2017, the bedroom tax rules changed so that a couple can be allowed two bedrooms if they can show that they are unable to share a bedroom due to disability and that at least one of them is in receipt of one of the following benefits: the dailiy living component of PIP, the care component of DLA at the middle or highest rate, Attendance Allowance or armed forces independent payment.

Challenging bedroom tax decisions

If your child gets DLA at the relevant rate but your housing benefit office refuses to accept that they cannot share a bedroom, you should either request a review or appeal against this decision within one month.

Contact a Family has produced standard appeal letters that you can use to challenge such a decision.

Financial support from Discretionary Housing Payments

Discretionary housing payments (DHP) can be made by local authorities to help tenants meet their rent charges. For instance they can help to make up a shortfall between your housing benefit payments and your rent.

These payments are at the discretion of the local authority so you have no legal right to them. They tend to be made for a temporary period and you may need to reapply for help periodically.

How you make a claim for DHP depends on your local council.

Challenging Discretionary Housing Payments decisions

You have no right to appeal a DHP refusal, but you can ask your local authority to review its decision.

You should seek legal advice if your housing benefit was cut because you have spare room for an overnight carer for your child and you were refused DHP.

When deciding whether to give you discretionary housing payments, many councils take Disability Living Allowance (DLA) into account as a form of income that is available to pay rent.

In March 2015 the High Court found that Sandwell Council had acted unlawfully in taking a couple's DLA into account in this way and this judgement calls into question whether other councils with a similar policy are acting lawfully.

If, because your child gets DLA, you were either refused a discretionary housing payment or got reduced payments, seek local advice about asking your council to reconsider its decision on the basis that it breaches section 29(6) of the Equality Act and article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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