Bedroom tax

8 mins read

This advice applies across the UK.

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

In this article

What is the “bedroom tax”?

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 through housing benefit or Universal Credit.

Both housing benefit and Universal Credit are means-tested. This means that the amount of help you 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”.

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. 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 known as the ‘size criteria’. For housing benefit/Universal Credit purposes, the following are expected to share one room:

The following are treated as needing their own room:

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 my benefit cut by?

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

There is no definition of a “bedroom” in the rules. 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

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

For example, let’s say you rent a private property with three bedrooms. Under size criteria rules, you 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 can have a separate bedroom in your housing benefit/Universal Credit calculation if both:

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 need 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 dependant and also to cases where the child is a disabled adult. 

You must show that your child both needs and gets regular overnight care. You must also normally show that your child gets either:

If they don’t receive one of these benefits, your housing benefit office can use their discretion to allow an extra bedroom. They can do this so long as they are satisfied that your child needs overnight care (e.g. because you have provided medical evidence confirming this). 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. This could be, 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. A couple can be allowed two bedrooms if they can show that they are unable to share a bedroom due to disability. At least one of them must be in receipt of one of the following benefits:

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.

We have produced standard appeal letters that you can use to challenge such a decision:

Financial support from Discretionary Housing Payments

Local authorities can make discretionary housing payments (DHP) 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 for a temporary period, and you may need to reapply for help periodically.

How you make a claim for a DHP depends on your local council. In Northern Ireland, you can apply via the Housing Executive website

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 a DHP.

When deciding whether to give you a DHP, many councils take DLA into account as a form of income 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. 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 DHP or got reduced payments, seek local advice about asking your council to reconsider its decision. This would be on the basis that it breaches section 29(6) of the Equality Act and article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Benefits you might be entitled to

Disability Living Allowance

Universal Credit

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

Carer’s Allowance

Tax credits

Help with Council Tax and rates

“Bedroom tax”

Other benefits

Welfare benefits in Scotland

< Benefits & tax credits