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The Bedroom Tax and What Does It Really Mean?

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Published: 9 Apr 2013      

I may become unpopular with a few readers and also may shed a bit of light on the situation to others.  Ether way I hope you find this article helpful. 

At the beginning of the month benefit changes came into place for council tenants and housing association tenants. These changes bring the housing benefit in line with those benefits for privately rented properties.

What do I mean by bring them in line

All those who rent from a landlord that is not a council or a housing association have only ever received the benefits for the bedrooms used e.g.

  • Two parent with one child renting a two bedroom house = full rent allowance is paid up to the maximum allotted for that size house. Any extra is paid by the tenant.
  • Two parent family with one child in a three bedroom house = they will only receive money for the two bedrooms used. They will have to pay for the extra room out of there own money and any money that is above the rent cap.

What do I mean by a rent cap

The council who allots money for housing benefits, puts a cap on how much a property should cost to rent. This cap is very different depending on were you live. Most privately rented houses are far more expensive to rent than council/housing association properties. The tenants also do not have a right to buy as the council/housing association tenants can.

Many of the private rental houses are said to be far better looked after, but I’m afraid that’s not the case. They are often owned as second homes, by those who want to build a nest egg and to be honest I don’t blame them. The only problem is a lot have no idea of the rules that are in place when it comes to maintaining the properties or don’t care. But that’s another article I think.

For many private renters this has been a bug bare when they are sat on long lists for council and housing association houses for many years. The fact that they have to pay more for rent and that when they are receiving help they only get enough money for the rooms used and not the spare rooms. Until this month council and housing association tenants have had the extra help.

 

The bedroom tax or bringing inline with private renters

The definition is:

The part of welfare reform that will cut the amount of benefit that people can get if they are considered to have a spare bedroom.

Welfare reforms will cut the amount of benefit that people can get if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home. This measure has applied to housing benefit claimants of working age from 1 April 2013.

The powers to do this

The power to reduce housing benefit in this way is contained in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and is commonly referred to as the bedroom tax, social sector size criteria or under-occupation penalty.

What do the changes mean for social tenants?

The size criteria in the social rented sector will restrict housing benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household, with the following exceptions:

  • Two children under 16 of same gender expected to share
  • Two children under 10 expected to share regardless of gender
  • Disabled tenant or partner who needs non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom
  • Approved foster carers will be allowed an additional room so long as they have fostered a child, or become an approved foster carer in the last 12 months.
  • Adult children in the Armed Forces will be treated as continuing to live at home when deployed on operations
  • In addition, local councils have been advised to allow an extra bedroom for children who are unable to share because of their severe disabilities.

Who will be affected?

All claimants who are deemed to have at least one spare bedroom will be affected. This includes:

  • Separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who receives the extra benefit)
  • Couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation
  • Parents whose children visit but are not part of the household
  • Disabled people including people living in adapted or specially designed properties.

How much will people lose?

The cut will be a fixed percentage of the Housing Benefit eligible rent. The Government has said that this will be set at 14% for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms.

The Government’s impact assessment shows that those affected will lose an average of £14 a week. Housing association tenants are expected to lose £16 a week on average.

How many people will see their benefit cut?

The proposal will affect an estimated 660,000 working-age social tenants – 31% of existing working-age housing benefit claimants in the social sector. The majority of these people have only one extra bedroom.

Do the regulations define a bedroom?

No. The Government’s view is that it is for landlords to specify the size of the property and this ought to match what is on any tenancy agreement and reflect the level of rent charged. The bedroom tax will not take account of whether a room is a single or a double bedroom. A room either is a bedroom or is not a bedroom.

There have been rumours circulating on social media that rooms under 70 sq. ft. do not count as a bedroom - but this is not the case. The information seems to be based on a mis-reading of the Housing Act regarding overcrowding.

How will the bedroom tax operate under Universal Credit?

There are some differences between how the bedroom tax operates under housing benefit (from April 2013) and under Universal Credit when it is introduced.

From April 2013 Under Universal Credit:

  • Those over State Pension Credit age will not be affected, including where one member of a couple is over pension age.    
  • Mixed age couples - both will need to be over pension age to not be affected by the bedroom tax.
  • Those where one is already in receipt of Pension Credit will however be protected.
  • Non-dependant deductions (NDD): six separate rates varying by income and under 25s on benefit are exempt.         
  • One, flat-rate Housing Cost Contribution (HCC).
  • All under 21s are exempt from HCC.
  • Non-dependants: couples get one room between them. They pay the NDD unless both are exempt.           
  • Each adult non-dependent gets a room. Each pays the HCC unless exempt.
  • Lodgers get a room but income is taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit apart from first £20.  No room allowance but any income from lodgers is disregarded.
  • In joint tenancy cases the bedroom tax can still apply.     
  • Bedroom tax is not applied in joint- tenancy cases.
  • Protection on death for up to 52 weeks.    
  • Benefits run-on for 3 months.
  • 13 week protection where the tenant could previously afford the rent and Housing Benefit has not been claimed in the last 52 weeks. Size criteria applies immediately.

What about lodgers?

From April 2013 lodgers count as occupying a room under the size criteria rules. Any income from a lodger will be taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit apart from the first £20.

This reverses under Universal Credit – lodgers will not be counted as occupying a room and the size criteria reduction will apply. Any income from lodgers will be fully disregarded and will not impact on the amount of a claimant’s Universal Credit award.

DWP have produced a factsheet on things to consider when renting out a room. Taking in a lodger will also have an impact on many home contents insurance policies, potentially invalidating a policy or raising the premiums.

What about students studying away from home?

Households where there is a room kept for a student studying away from home will not be deemed to be under-occupying if the student is away for less than 52 weeks (under housing benefit) or 6 months (under Universal Credit) - and the local authority accepts that the household is still the student's main home.

Under housing benefit rules students are exempt from non-dependant deductions. However full-time students will not be exempt from the Housing Cost Contribution (HCC) which replaces non-dependent deductions under Universal Credit. All young people under 21 are exempt from the HCC, but students over 21 will face a contribution in the region of £15 per week.

So love it or hate it the bedroom tax is here. You may think it is fair that social tenants and private tenants are now treated the same. Then again you could be one of those affected and not so happy.

The next step is bringing the rental costs to be the same whether its social or private rented. Now that would bring the housing benefit bill down.

 

For more details on the changes in your area go to your local council website.