Social tenants in England, Scotland and Wales have their housing benefit reduced if their home has more bedrooms than they are seen by law to need. This has become known as the Bedroom Tax or the "Social Sector Size Criteria".
The "Bedroom Tax" will be brought into Northern Ireland in February 2017. The Assembly had made plans to ensure that people would be protected from this cut in their Housing Benefit until 2020. Problems with the Assembly mean that it is not clear how people will be protected, but the government has confirmed that people will not lose out financially because of this change to Housing Benefit rules
Who will be affected?
The bedroom tax will apply if you
- rent your home from the NI Housing Executive or a housing association and
- receive Housing Benefit to help with your rent and
- have more bedrooms in your home than you need.
Who won't be affected?
The bedroom tax won't affect people
- who pay their rent without any help from Housing Benefit
- who are of state-pension age
- who rent their homes from a private landlord or through a private agency
- who are living in temporary accommodation
- bought their homes through a shared-ownership scheme.
How will the bedroom tax work in Northern Ireland?
The "bedroom tax" will apply to housing benefit law in Northern Ireland from February 2017. The Assembly had made plans to ensure that people would be protected from this cut in their Housing Benefit until 2020. Although we are not sure how people will be protected, it is likely that an emergency fund will be set up to top-up the rent accounts of people who are affected by this change in Housing Benefit rules. You will not have to apply for a top-up payment, it should happen automatically.
Get advice if you are worried about how the bedroom tax will affect you.
How many bedrooms are you entitled to?
People who rent from a private landlord and receive housing benefit only receive housing benefit for the number of rooms they are legally entitled to, no matter how much the actual rent on the property is. The bedroom tax means that people who receive housing benefit and live in social housing will come under the same restrictions. One bedroom is allowed for
- a couple;
- a person aged 16 and over;
- two children of the same sex;
- two children under 10;
- any other child;
- a carer providing overnight care to the claimant or the claimant's partner.
Extra bedroom in certain cases
There are a number of exceptions where an additional bedroom can be added to the household's entitlement. These are
- where the claimant is an approved foster carer
- where the claimant has a child who has a serious disability and who cannot, as a result of this disability, share a bedroom with another child
- where a member of the household is currently serving as part of the armed forces and would otherwise be living in the family home.
Parents who share care of children with a partner will only be entitled to a bedroom for those children if they are the primary carer for the children and receive child benefit.
Disabled adults or children cannot share a room
In November 2016, the Supreme Court decided that certain elements of the bedroom tax policy unfairly discriminated against households with disabilities and that this justification could not be justified by the availability of Discretionary Housing Payments. This creates case law to say that an additional bedroom should also be allowed
- where two adults, who would otherwise be expected to share a bedroom, cannot do so because of a disability and
- where an additional bedroom is required for a non-resident carer for a child who has a clear medical need for this treatment.
It is likely that the laws and guidance related to this policy will be changed following this judgment.
Reduction in your Housing Benefit
Your "eligible rent" will be reduced if you are seen to be living in a property that has more bedrooms than you lawfully require. Your eligible rent is the rent due on your home minus any service charges or other costs that housing benefit won't cover. The amount of housing benefit you get is based on your eligible rent. Your "eligible rent" will becut by
- 14% if you have one more bedroom than you require and
- 25% if you have two or more bedrooms over your legal needs.
So, say before the tax your weekly eligible rent is £70. If you have one bedroom more than you need your new eligible rent will be £60.20. Your housing benefit will be worked out based on this rental figure of £60.20 so you'll have to pay the other £9.80 directly to your landlord.
You will be expected to pay the shortfall in your rent directly to your housing provider. The government has suggested a number of ways that tenants can cope with this cut to benefits.
Foster carers and members of the armed forces
If you have an adult son or daughter serving in Her Majesty's Forces who would normally live with you but is on active duty at the moment, the empty room won't count towards the bedroom tax.
People who have either been accepted as approved foster carers in the last 12 months or who have fostered a child in the last 12 months will be allowed an additional room for foster children. You will only be allowed one additional room, regardless of how many children you foster.
Ways to cope
If you wish to stay in your home you will need to consider how best to make up the difference between your housing benefit and your rent. You could consider
- asking people who live with you to contribute more towards the rent
- trying to find employment or increasing your hours at work
- applying for a Discretionary Housing Payment.
- renting your extra room to a lodger, although this may affect your entitlement to other benefits
- applying for a transfer to a smaller property.
Discretionary Housing Payments
If your Housing Benefit is cut because of the bedroom tax, you will probably be able to apply to the Housing Executive for a Discretionary Housing Payment. This is a short-term top-up payment which can help with your shortfall in rent. You will not always be awarded a Discretionary Housing Payment. You will have to show that, without this payment, you will be in severe financial hardship and you may have to show that you have investigated other options to deal with the shortfall.
Taking in a lodger
If you decide to take in a lodger you should first check with a local advice agency what effect this will have on your benefits. Any money you receive from a lodger will be treated as household income and could impact on how much benefit you receive. If you receive less than £7500 each year by renting a room you do not have to declare this income to HMRC. However, if you receive more than this you will need to complete a tax return and pay income tax on the additional amount.
Living with a lodger can be complicated. Draw up ground rules and make sure that you and your lodger are comfortable with these before making an agreement. It’s a good idea to have some sort of signed agreement with your lodger that deals with how and when rent is paid, as well as how each of you can end the arrangement.
You may need to consider swapping to a smaller home if you're unable to manage the rent on your home once your housing benefit is reduced. If you decide to look for an exchange, where you swap your home with another tenant, you might want to post details of your current home on Homeswapper. Homeswapper is a website that has details of social homes across Great Britain which are available for exchange. If your landlord is a member of the scheme it is free for you to advertise your property. The Housing Executive and some local housing associations are members of this service. If you're not sure whether your landlord has subscribed to Homeswapper, call your housing officer to check.