Housing Benefit: The 'Bedroom Tax'

What is the bedroom tax?

Since April 2013, tenants in council or housing association homes have seen cuts to their housing benefit in cases where their local council has deemed that the property has more rooms than are needed.

The policy has a different name in different areas, including:

  • The under occupancy charge
  • The social sector size criteria
  • Removal of the spare room subsidy

This nationwide policy is commonly known as the bedroom tax and for the purposes of this information we will adopt this term.

Under the rules, the following people are allowed one bedroom each:

  • Each adult couple
  • Each other person over the age of 16
  • Two children of the same sex under 16
  • Two children under 10, regardless of their sex
  • An overnight carer who doesn’t normally live with you

Example one

Mr and Mrs Patel live in a two bedroom flat rented from the local council. They will be deemed to have one spare bedroom and will receive a cut in their housing benefit.

Example two

Tom lives alone in a two bedroom flat. He is deafblind and has an overnight carer who stays with him regularly. He will not receive a cut in his housing benefit for his second bedroom because this bedroom is used regularly for the overnight carer to stay in.

How much will I lose from my housing benefit?

If your home is considered to be too big for you, the rent used to work out your housing benefit will be cut by 14% if you have one spare bedroom and 25% if you have two or more spare bedrooms.

This will mean you get less housing benefit. In some cases where people were already getting reduced housing benefit (if it did not cover the full amount of rent) they may lose housing benefit altogether.

Will everybody be affected by the bedroom tax?

The bedroom tax applies to council and housing association tenants in receipt of housing benefit.

People of a pension age will not be affected by the bedroom tax.

There are also special rules that may allow an extra bedroom for the following people:

  • Disabled children who, because of their disability, are unable to share a bedroom with their siblings in cases where the rules would normally expect them to share a bedroom
  • Foster carers
  • Households with an adult child in the armed forces

If you need an overnight carer, remember that the rules allow one bedroom for them. An overnight carer does not need to be a professional carer, for example from an agency, but can be anybody including family or friends who don’t normally live with you.

There is no definition of how regularly the overnight carer needs to stay: the regulations and guidance do not explain this.

Council’s will look at different situations on a case by case basis.

The courts are developing case law which will give a clearer idea. If you have an overnight carer but are still losing housing benefit for the room that they stay in, contact us for advice.

As the law currently stands, there are no special rules relating to disabled adults who do not need overnight carers.

Sense is aware that deafblind adults will often need storage space for disability related equipment, such as Braille machines or large screens.

The government has made no provision for this in the legislation and there are currently no special rules relating to disabled adults. However, in November 2016, two families with disabled members successfully challenged the ‘bedroom tax’ in the Supreme Court1 . The Supreme Court held that in their specific circumstances they had been directly discriminated against on the grounds of their disability because there was a “transparent medical need for another bedroom”.

In the first case a woman with multiple disabilities needed to sleep in a special bed with her wheelchair by the side of the bed, and space for her husband and nurses to attend to her needs. Her husband could not share the bed and there was no space in the room for another bed. Therefore, it was held that applying the bedroom tax in that situation could not be lawfully justified.

In the second successful case a couple live with their severely disabled grandson. They need a third bedroom to accommodate a carer who provides respite care twice a week. Without the carer they would not be able to continue caring for their grandson and he would have to move into a care home. Again, it was held that applying the bedroom tax in that situation could not be lawfully justified.

Five other cases which were heard at the same time were dismissed because there was no direct connection between the extra bedroom and their family member’s disability and the discrimination could be justified (and the families could apply for discretionary housing payments  -see below).

Therefore, the impact of these cases is likely to be limited but if you have circumstances similar to the successful cases you may wish to get further advice on whether to challenge a decision to deduct the bedroom tax from your benefits.

Although the law makes no provision for disability related equipment, Sense are pleased to hear that a number of the first Tribunal hearings on bedroom tax have been successful for disabled people, including a blind man who used his spare room for storage.

Sense continue to call on the government to change the policy to reflect the fact that disabled people will often need more space.

This is a new area of the law and it is still developing. How the law is applied may change quite rapidly so it is important to contact Sense if you plan to appeal.

For help and advice, contact the Sense Information and Advice Service

Problems with bedroom tax

If you believe your housing benefit has been reduced or ended altogether when it should not have been, or you have any concerns about your housing benefit, contact the Sense Information and Advice Service.

You can ask the local council to reconsider their position, or you can appeal.

The deadline for doing this is usually one month from the date of the decision to change your housing benefit entitlement, so it is important to seek advice quickly if you receive a decision you are unhappy with.

Discretionary Housing Payments

If your housing benefit has been reduced because of the bedroom tax (or the benefits cap) you can apply for discretionary housing payment from your local authority.

This is intended to be paid for a limited period to help you to pay your rent. You are not guaranteed to receive a discretionary housing payment, as local authorities only have limited funds to award them from, which sometimes run out towards the end of the financial year.

1R (on the application of Carmichael and Rourke) (formerly known as MA and others) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Respondent) Case ID: UKSC 2014/0125

First published: Thursday 16 January 2014
Updated: Monday 28 November 2016