What is it?
The ‘Bedroom Tax’ means that Council or Housing Association tenants who are classed as having a spare bedroom(s) under the government’s new size criteria, will see a reduction from their housing benefit of 14% for 1 bedroom or 25% for 2 or more bedrooms which means they will receive less money towards their rent. These tenants will need to pay the difference between their rent and the amount they receive towards it otherwise they will fall into rent arrears and may be evicted.
What are the new size criteria?
The size criteria are exactly the same as those that apply to tenants in the private sector:
- Any adult or couple is entitled to one bedroom
- Two children under 16 of the same gender are expected to share
- Two children under 10 are expected to share regardless of gender
- If a disabled tenant or their partner needs non-resident overnight care, they 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
- If two children cannot share because one or both of them has a severe disability that would make sharing difficult or dangerous, they will be allowed an extra bedroom. You will need to specifically request this from your local council and provide medical evidence
Will the Bedroom Tax apply to me?
If you and/or your partner are pensioners, you will NOT be affected by this change.
People with even severe disabilities will be affected and may be forced to move as a result. There is a legal challenge being brought by a number of disabled people and separated parents, but we will not know whether it has been successful until the summer.
This means that you must pay the shortfall in your rent as if the case is going to lose AND write to your local Council to request that the Bedroom Tax does not apply to you, otherwise you will not benefit from the outcome of the legal challenge.
Remember : even if a bedroom is in fact being used that does not mean you are entitled to the housing benefit for it if your use falls outside the criteria described above .
When will it happen?
The Bedroom Tax will apply to all housing benefit claims from the 1st of April 2013.
In due course almost all benefits will be replaced by one single payment of benefits called Universal Credit, which will change the assessment of how the Bedroom Tax applies, although the principles will remain the same. Universal Credit will come in from October 2013 but most people already on benefits will not be affected until 2014 at the earliest.
What can I do?
The easiest way of escaping the Bedroom Tax is to either start working enough hours to no longer be entitled to any housing benefit or to down-size to smaller accommodation. If you would like to down-size you should contact your landlord immediately.
If you cannot access sufficient employment or down-size, you are faced with limited choices:
- Approach your local authority and make a homelessness application, but be aware that the law has changed and they can now force you to accept a private tenancy, which must be in an area you can afford. You will NOT be intentionally homeless if you can no longer afford your rent because of the Bedroom Tax
- Cut back on household essentials and live on less money
- If you are or live with someone who is disabled, you can apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment from your local authority Housing Benefit Department, which might cover the shortfall. However, unless your property has been specially adapted, it is unlikely that this will be long term.
Get advice and help
Z2K specialises in working with people affected by changes like these. We are here to help and can provide you with advice, and if necessary with casework assistance, such as writing letters to the Council or applying for a Discretionary Housing Payment. Contact us to find out more.