Benefits and housing
Since 1 April 2013 the under occupation rules or ‘bedroom tax’ came into force and this has impacted on tenants with a spare bedroom. The charge means that housing benefit or Universal Credit Housing Costs are reduced by 14% if you are considered to have one extra bedroom and 25% if you have two or more extra bedrooms. This applies to people of working age (16 to 65 years old).
The following guidelines let you know how many rooms are allowed.
You are allowed one bedroom for:
- Every adult couple (married or unmarried)
- Any other adult aged 16 years or over
- Any two children of the same sex aged under 16 years
- Any two children aged under 10 years
- 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 or your child with overnight care.
- Adult couple whom cannot share a bedroom for medical reasons can be allocated a bedroom each
Affected tenants have responded to this in different ways. Some have downsized through transfers either within Habinteg or via offers made through the Local Authority or by swapping properties through mutual exchanges.
Some tenants who do not wish to move are paying the shortfall themselves.
Some tenants have gained Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to cover some or all of the costs of the housing benefit shortfall. DHP is normally only paid in the short term and tenants need to demonstrate that they are trying to downsize in order to qualify for this.
DHP can be withdrawn and should not be relied upon to cover costs in the long term. DHP budgets given to local authorities have also been reduced each year so this will become harder to claim. Our experience shows that each local authority area awards the payments in slightly different ways, for example, some local authorities make awards at the end of the financial year based on claims made throughout the year.
We have already had a number of court cases for arrears due to the under occupation charge and one eviction as a result of arrears arising from this. The main reason we had to resort to eviction was that the tenant involved refused to talk to us about the problem and we were given no other option than to proceed to court. If you are struggling with the under occupation charge please talk to your Community Assistant, Income Recovery Officer or Housing Manager as we may be able to assist you in making applications to move or in applying for DHP.
What should I do if I would like to move to a smaller property?
Many tenants have used mutual exchange as a route to downsizing, this is a scheme that enables tenants to swap homes with any other social housing tenant. Habinteg pays for our tenants to be part of the scheme and you can register for this at the House Exchange website.
You can also register on Habinteg’s waiting list for a transfer however we are a small association with a small turnover of properties so you should also register with your local authority. In some cases we can still offer internal transfers if you have a clear rent account or small rent arrear that you are paying off and agree to clear if you are re-housed. Your property must also be in good condition so that we can re-let it quickly.
London tenants can also apply for moves between boroughs (priority is given to those needing to downsize). You can find more information about this at the Housing Moves website.
What should I do if I want to remain in my current home?
Habinteg apply rent changes based on government guidance. We are not able to decrease rents for affected tenants and if there is a shortfall in housing benefit due to the under occupation charge then you may wish to consider the following options to make up for any lost benefits:
- Is someone of working age living with you able to contribute to the rent from their benefits or wages?
- If you work part time, could you increase your hours to help make the extra money?
- If you don’t work at the moment, could finding a job provide the extra money you need?
- Could you find a paying lodger?
- Could you manage your money differently? For example, could you change your electricity or gas provider to save money?
Local Housing Allowance (LHA)
Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is currently applied to housing benefit claims for people renting privately. The amount of LHA received depends on the maximum rent allowed for properties in the area and the number of rooms the household needs (this is same as 'bedroom tax' rules). The LHA is based on market rents in different areas, so varies from place to place. You can use this government website to find the LHA rate for your area.
From 1 April 2019, LHA rates will be applied to Housing Benefit and Universal Credit for social housing tenancies and this will limit the level of Housing Benefit you will receive. In most cases this will replace the 'bedroom tax' in the calculation of your housing costs or Housing Benefit. If the LHA is less than your current rent then you will be responsible for making up the shortfall between the rent and the LHA that is paid.
Unlike previous benefit changes, this also affects pension age tenants if they signed their tenancy after 1 April 2016
Who to talk to
Your Community Assistant can provide you with our facts and tips sheet on under occupation or point you in the right direction to get more detailed guidance from the Government. You can also contact Habinteg Direct for advice and assistance.
If you are worried you might be under occupying, want to know more about the Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) fund, or are moving to a different property then contact your Housing Manager or call Habinteg Direct.