Housing and Council Tax Benefit
Changes to the Benefit System as of April 2013
The Government has announced plans for the following changes starting from April 2013:
1. Social Sector under occupation
Housing Benefit will be restricted for some individuals whose home is larger than their household needs. This will apply to councils and housing association tenants of a 'working age'. At present, 'working age' individuals become 'pension age' when they reach the state retirement age for women. This is increasing from 60 to 65 between April 2010 and April 2020. As a result you may soon have to pay more if you are renting from a 'not for profit' landlord and are obtaining Housing Benefits.
Furthermore, if you are of working age, and you rent from the council or from a 'not for profit' landlord like a housing association or housing trust, the new rules states that you could get paid less Housing Benefit from April 2013, even if you are currently receiving all of your rent. This may result in you not being able to afford your home.
If the property is bigger than you need
If you qualify for Housing Benefit, you can currently get help to pay part or all your rent, depending on your circumstances. As of April 2013, your benefit will be reduced if you live in a property that's classed as being bigger than you need. You will have to make up the difference between the benefit you get and the rent you have to pay, regardless of whether or not you receive a full payment of Housing Benefit. If you can afford your home now you may not be able to afford it from April 2013.
Even if the new rules do not affect you in April 2013, your benefit could still be cut if someone moves out, as your home would then be classed as being bigger than you need. However, these changes will be delayed for up to a year if this is because someone has died.
In addition, if you have an overnight carer who does not live with you, but provides you or your partner with regular overnight care; the new rules allow for an extra bedroom.
Are there any exceptions?
There are some exceptions which would result in the changes not applying to you. They are:
- If you or your partner (if you have one), have reached 'pension age' - At present, 'working age' people become 'pension age' people when they reach the state retirement age for women. This is increasing from 60 to 65 between April 2010 and April 2020. You can use the Directgov State Pension age calculator to check when you reach 'pension age'.
- You have a regulated tenancy (usually a pre-1989 tenancy)
- Your home is part of a shared ownership scheme
- You live in temporary accommodation for homeless people because the council has housed you there
- You live in certain types of supported or sheltered accommodation
- or you come under occupation rules
Frequently Asked Questions regarding under occupation
When was the size limit measure announced?
The Chancellor announced the introduction of size limit rules in the social rented sector in the June 2010 Emergency Budget. It now forms part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which received Royal Assent on 8 March 2012.
What does under-occupying mean?According to the new rules if someone is assessed as having more bedrooms in their accommodation than is necessary they will be considered to be under-occupying that property.
How many bedrooms am I allowed?
The new rules will restrict the size of accommodation you can receive Housing Benefit for based on the make up of your household.
The new rules allow one bedroom for:
- every adult couple (married or unmarried)
- any other adult aged 16 or over
- any two children of the same sex aged under 16
- any two children aged under 10
- any other child (other than a foster child or child whose main home is elsewhere)
- a carer (or team of carers) who do not live with you but provide you or your partner with overnight care
What will happen if I am under-occupying?
If you are assessed as under-occupying your accommodation a percentage reduction will be made to your eligible rent and any eligible service charges. This percentage will depend on how many rooms you are under-occupying by:
- 14% if someone is considered to have one extra bedroom
- 25% if someone has two or more extra bedrooms
Who is affected; is anyone exempt?
The size limit measure will affect anyone who is of working age and is receiving Housing Benefit or has made a claim for Housing Benefit.
There are certain circumstances where the size limit rules will not be applied.
Non-Mainstream accommodation - These are mooring charges for house boats and site charges for caravans and mobile homes as well as various "excluded tenancies" within schedule 2 to the Housing Benefit Regulations, such as regulated tenancies.
Temporary accommodation - Any claimant who is placed in temporary accommodation by the local authority because they are homeless or to prevent homelessness.
Exempt accommodation - The size limit rules will not be applied to those in supported 'exempt' accommodation. This is a particular type of supported accommodation defined for Housing Benefit purposes as accommodation provided by a non-metropolitan county council in England, a housing association, a registered charity or voluntary organisation where that body or a person acting on its behalf also provides the claimant with care, support or supervision as set out in paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to the Consequential Provisions Regulations 2006.
Are you allowed a room for a foster child?
No, when calculating how many bedrooms a family unit require, a room for a foster child will not be taken into account. Therefore, a household that has an extra room for a current or potential foster child will be treated as under-occupying.
If assessed as under-occupying, foster carers or those being assessed to become foster carers should apply for help with the shortfall in their rent from the Discretionary Housing Payment fund.
Will my housing association find me a smaller house?
If you wish to move to smaller accommodation it is advisable to talk to your landlord. They should be able to advise you if moving to smaller accommodation is possible and what steps you need to take.
My partner has just passed away, am I going to be expected to move as well?
There may be circumstances where someone in receipt of Housing Benefit would be considered to be under-occupying because of a death in their household. In these circumstances they would be protected and the size limit rules would not be applied until after 12 months or they moved home or there was another change of circumstances (whichever came first).
I could afford my rent but just lost my job and need to claim Housing Benefit. Does this mean I won't get benefit to cover all my rent because I have an extra room?
If you could previously afford to pay your rent and find yourself in a situation where you now cannot, for example because of a loss of job, provided you have not claimed Housing Benefit in the last 52 weeks, the size limit rules will not be applied for the first 13 weeks. They will be applied earlier than 13 weeks if you move home or have another change of circumstances.
How will I make up any shortfall in rent?
If you are assessed as under-occupying your accommodation and experience a reduction in your Housing Benefit, there are a number of courses of action open to you. You may wish to find more appropriately sized accommodation or stay where you are and make up the shortfall in rent yourself.
Move - You may decide that it would be best to move to appropriately sized accommodation in the social rented sector. Your landlord will be able to talk this through with you and advise you as to whether this in a viable option.
You may decide that moving to the private rented sector would be appropriate for you. Again your landlord or Housing Officer will be able to advise you about this.
Ask non-dependants to contribute - If you decide to stay in your current accommodation and make up the shortfall yourself you may wish to ask other non-dependants (other adults) living with you to contribute to the rent.
Take in a lodger - You may wish to take in a lodger to fill the extra room you have. You should check this is allowed by your landlord. If you do this the lodger would be assessed as part of the household meaning you would not necessarily be considered to be under-occupying and you may have more income from their rent.
Increase hours of work - If you are in employment you may consider increasing your working hours to make up the shortfall in rent.
Take a job - If you are not currently in employment, finding a job could help you pay the additional rent.
Apply for a DHP - In certain circumstances a claimant may be entitled to a payment from the Discretionary Housing Payment Fund. This is a fund administered by the local authority for those they consider in real need of additional help with their housing costs.
2. Local Housing Allowance Rates
Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates will be also be increased in line with the Consumer Price Index, as oppose to being linked to the local rent levels. This is likely to mean that LHA rates will lose touch with the local rented housing market. They will not reflect local rents.
Currently, the independent Valuation Office Agency (VOA) sets the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate that we use to work out benefits. It is set for the area the property is in and is based on the number of bedrooms that the LHA rules states that you need for your household. At present, this is up to a maximum of four bedrooms. However, from April 2013, LHA rates will no longer be linked to local rent levels. To prepare for this, the rates that were set in April 2012 have been frozen until April 2013 instead of being reviewed every month.
We will review your LHA rate again if you move or someone moves into or out of your home.
3. The Benefit Cap
From April 2013 the Government is setting a limit on the amount of benefit that individuals of a working age receive. This is known as a benefit cap. The aim of the cap is to stop people getting more in benefit payments than the average wage (after tax and National Insurance). Some benefits, however, will be made exempt .
Housing Benefit will also be one of the benefits that will be reduced, in a situation where the claimants benefit income reaches the cap level. The cap is most likely to affect families with more than four children. The benefit cap, however will only apply to working age individuals.
It is estimated that the cap will be set at the following levels:
- £500 per week for couple and single parent households
- £350 per week for single households without children
The following benefits count towards the benefit cap:
These benefits all count:
- Bereavement Allowance
- Carer's Allowance
- Child Benefit
- Child Tax Credit
- Employment and Support Allowance (except where it includes the support component)
- Guardian's Allowance
- Housing Benefit
- Incapacity Benefit
- Income Support
- Jobseeker's Allowance
- Maternity Allowance
- Severe Disablement Allowance
- Widowed Parent's Allowance
- Widowed Mother's Allowance
- Widow's Pension
- Widow's Pension (age-related)
The following households will be exempt from the Benefits Cap:
- Households that include somebody who is receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Constant Attendance Allowance. This includes those who will receive the Personal Independence Payment which will replace DLA for individuals of working age (aged 16 to 64) from April 2013
- Households entitled to Working Tax Credit
- War widows and widowers
If it's likely that the benefit cap will affect you, you will receive a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions during May 2012.
It won't apply if you or your partner is of 'pension age' (currently the state retirement age for women). You can use the Directgov State Pension Age calculator to check when you reach 'pension age'.
The benefit cap does not apply for 39 weeks from the date you claim benefit if you or your partner have been working continuously for the previous 12 months and you lost your job through no fault of your own.
4. Council Tax
Council Tax Benefit will be abolished and replaced with Council Tax Support in April 2013. The Council is consulting residents about this at the moment, the consultation ends on 31 October 2012. To have your say on the changes to Council Tax Benefit see the Consulation on changes to Council Tax Benefit.
5. Universal Credit
Housing Benefit will become part of the Universal Credit scheme that will replace out-of-work income-related benefits and tax credits to help people move into work. New claims to Housing Benefit are due to end in April 2014.
Pages in Housing and Council Tax Benefit
- What is Housing and Council Tax Benefit?
- How is Housing and Council Tax Benefit calculated?
- How to claim
- Current claim
- What is Second Adult Rebate?
- What is a discretionary housing payment?
- When will my Benefit be paid?
- What happens if I am awarded benefit and I have a change in my circumstances?
- Benefit Fraud
- What to do if you disagree with a decision
- The Valuation Office Agency (VOA)
- Local Housing Allowance (LHA)
- Information from the Department of Work & Pensions regarding changes to Housing Benefit from April 2011
- Housing Benefit Change for Some Single People
- You are here: Changes to the Benefit System as of April 2013