Underoccupancy or ‘The Bedroom Tax’
Should spare rooms just be blocked up?
Housing Benefit rules have changed under Welfare Reform. The Government wants to encourage people to downsize and make room for larger families, so it will no longer pay benefit to cover spare bedrooms. Having one or more spare bedrooms is officially called underoccupancy, but the reduction in benefit has become known as The Bedroom Tax.
Under the new rules, if you have a spare bedroom, your eligible rent will be reduced by 14p in every pound. If you have two or more spare rooms you will lose a quarter of your eligible rent from your Housing Benefit.
Eligible rent is the term used for the rent from which Housing Benefit is calculated, and is usually the same as the rent charged. Housing Benefit will not cover some services such as food or cleaning, that are sometimes included in the rent in sheltered housing or similar accommodation.
To work out how many spare rooms you have, children under 16 of the same sex will be expected to share a room, and children under 10 of different sexes will also be expected to share.
The cuts will not affect pensioners. And, if things change because of a death in your household, you will have a year before any cuts apply to you.
If you have non-dependent adults living with you (including grown-up children) their room will be treated as spare when it comes to working out your Housing Benefit. The Government assumes they will pay you some rent.
To see how you will be affected, use our simple calculator. If you put in your number of spare bedrooms, and tell us about the occupants of your house we’ll be able to calculate if you have any spare bedrooms and what the impact will be on your Housing Benefit.
What can you do?
- You have several options: You can pay the extra money yourself, but if you are struggling, speak to your landlord as soon as possible. See our tips about earning a little extra money
- You can talk to your landlord about moving to a smaller property If you’re living in social housing (a housing association or similar), you should check with your landlord who may have schemes in place to help.
- You can take in a lodger. See advice from StepChange about this option
- You could move into cheaper, privately rented accommodation, but get advice before you do so
- You will need to look hard at your budget to make it balance. If you can’t cover the rent by dipping into other income or other benefits, then you may have to think about moving to a smaller home.
Are there any exceptions?
Foster parents do not get a room allowed for a foster child. Foster parents can apply to the local council’s discretionary housing fund to cover the reduction in housing benefit. But there may not be enough money to help everyone.
If a home has been adapted for a disabled person and there is a spare bedroom used for equipment or other purposes it will NOT be exempt. You will have to apply to the discretionary fund.
However, following three linked cases decided by the Court of Appeal: Gorry, Burnip, and Trengrove it may be possible to argue that a severely disabled child should not have to share a room with a sibling.
If a couple separate but continue to live in the same home, they will be counted as two separate adults – that will apply whether or not they were originally married or in a civil partnership. If they live in separate homes, the parent who is the primary carer will get the bedroom allocation. If the parents genuinely share the care of the children then the one who gets the child benefit will get the allocation. If they have more than one child and they each get child benefit for at least one child it is possible they may each get a bedroom allocation for those children.
Once a child of the family reaches 16, he or she can have a room of their own. If they stay in education and normally live in the family home then their room will not be counted as spare. If they go away to study then their room will not be counted as spare for 52 weeks. But if the local council decides that the family home is not the student’s main residence, their room will be counted as spare.
Once a child leaves education and looks for work, gets a job or claims jobseeker’s allowance then different rules apply. If they still live in the home an amount known as a non-dependant deduction will be taken off the Housing Benefit. That deduction is between £13.60 and £87.75 a week, depending on their income.
Normally if a room is left empty it will count as a spare room after 13 weeks.
Where a home is part rented and part being purchased the deduction will not apply.
Someone who has recently become unemployed and begun a claim for Housing Benefit may not have the deduction applied for 13 weeks.
See our Bedroom Tax Calculator to see how you will be affected.
Could you take in a lodger? See advice from StepChange.
People who will suffer hardship as a result of these changes can apply for a payment from the local council’s Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) which is being increased by £30 million for this purpose. Foster parents and disabled people are expected to be the main groups helped. More info can be found on Shelter’s website here.