Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support
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 needs. This will apply to Council and Housing Association tenants if they are ‘working age’. At present, ‘working age’ tenants become ‘pension age’ tenants when they start to receive their state retirement pension.
This means, anyone of working age who lives in a Council or Housing Association property that has more bedrooms than they need may have to contribute towards their rent from April 2013 even if they previously had all their rent paid by Housing Benefit.
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 start to receive their state retirement pension. You can use the GOV.UK 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
- If you have a foster child living with you, or you are an approved foster carer waiting for a placement , you are allowed one extra bedroom for social sector properties and it does not matter how many foster children you have.
- For social sector properties an adult child (son, daughter, step-son or step daughter, you or your partner) who normally lives with you, but is on operation in the armed forces counts as needing a bedroom - as long as they intend to live with you again.
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?
From the 1 April 2013 Regulations allow for an extra bedroom for a foster child or children of an approved foster carer and to ensure that the parents of armed forces personnel who are away from home on operations will continue to have them included when applying size criteria. These regulations apply to both claimants in the private and social rented sectors.
One extra bedroom will apply to:
- Approved foster carers who have a child or children placed with them
- Approved foster carers who are between placements but only for a period of up to 52 consecutive weeks from the date of the last placement
- Newly approved foster carers but only for a period of up to 52 consecutive weeks from the date of the approval, if no child is placed with them during that period.
The claimant must have a bedroom in their home which is in addition to those occupied by their household, for the additional room to be allowed in the size criteria (subject to a maximum of 4 bedrooms for LHA claims).
The claimant or partner will need to evidence a letter confirming their approval from the social worker responsible for their assessment.
Parents of Armed Forces Personnel
From the 1 April 2013 adult children who are in the armed forces but who continue to live with parents, may be treated as continuing to live at home (for the purposes of applying the size criteria), when deployed on operations.
In addition, the non-dependant deduction will be removed and reinstated when they return home. Please contact the benefit section if you need further information or to check if you would qualify on 01200 425111, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the 4 December 2013 an extra bedroom maybe allowed for a severely disabled child or a carer. Please contact the benefit section if you need further information or to check if you would quality on 01200 425111, or email email@example.com.
Couple Unable to Share Because of Disability
From 1 April 2017 an extra bedroom may be allowed for a member of a couple who are unable to share a bedroom because of a disability.
Please contact the Benefits section for further information or to check if you would qualify on 01200 425111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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. Council Tax
Council Tax benefit abolished and replaced with Council Tax Support in April 2013. The Council consulted residents about this, the consultation ended on 31 October 2012.
4. Additional Changes
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 for further details see Universal Credit.