Housing Benefit and Social Housing 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, this formed part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which received Royal Assent on 8 March 2012.
Why were the changes introduced?
These changes were introduced to bring social housing tenants in line with the privately rented sector as part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012.
What does under-occupying mean?
This is where someone is assessed as having more bedrooms in their home than is allowed under the housing benefit regulations (see ‘how many rooms am I allowed?’), they will be considered to be under-occupying that property.
How many rooms am I allowed?
Under the Housing Benefit regulations one bedroom is allowed for each of the following:
- 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
- a carer (or team of carers) who does not live with you but provides overnight care for you or your partner - From 1 April 2017 this was extended to include non-resident carers for children or non-dependants.
- An additional room maybe allowed for a disabled child if they cannot share a room due to a disability. From 1 April 2017 this also applies where you and your partner cannot share a room due to a physical disability. Please see further down this section for more information.
- An additional room will be allowed for a foster child or children living with an approved foster carer
- Parents of armed forces personnel who are away from home on operations will continue to have then included as part of their household
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 be:
- 14% if it is considered you have one extra bedroom
- 25% if it is considered you have two or more extra bedrooms
Who is affected?
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.
What does working age mean?
Anyone under state pension retirement age.
What if my partner is over state pension retirement age?
If one member of a couple receiving Housing Benefit is over state pension credit age then the size limit will not apply to them.
Will the shared accommodation rate apply?
There is no shared accommodation rate in the social rented sector. A person living on their own will require one bedroom, whether the property is self-contained or not regardless of their age.
Are you allowed a room for a foster child?
Where a claimant or partner who is an approved foster carer one extra bedroom will be allowed under the size criteria rules for use by a foster child or children, in both the private and social rented sectors.
I share the house with someone else, how is my room allowance worked out?
If you occupy your accommodation jointly with someone else the size limit rules will take into account everyone living in the property when deciding whether you are under-occupying for Housing Benefit purposes. If it is decided that you are under-occupying, a percentage reduction will be taken off the whole eligible rent and any eligible service charges and your Housing Benefit will then be based on the proportion of the rent you are liable to pay.
I share care of my children with my ex-partner, are we both entitled to a room for them?
Where parents who don’t live together have shared care of their children, the children will be treated as living with the parent who is treated as responsible for them and provides their main home.
For someone to be treated as responsible for a child or young person, the child or young person must normally be living with them. If a child or young person spends equal amounts of time in different households, or there is a question as to whom they normally live with, they will be treated as living with the person who is receiving Child Benefit for them.
The parent who is not considered to provide their main home will not be entitled to receive Housing Benefit for an extra room for their child/children. If they wish to remain in their current accommodation they will need to make up the shortfall in rent themselves.
My house has been adapted to cater for my disability, am I included in the size limit rules?
Other than the cases stated above there will be no exceptions to the application of the size limit rules. If there is a reason that an extra room is necessary your local authority may be able to help you with the extra rent through the Discretionary Housing Payment fund.
My child has a disability and is not able to share a room; will I be allowed an extra room for them?
You will be allowed to keep an extra bedroom if your child has severe disabilities and is unable to share a bedroom. In making this decision, we are likely to consider:
- any medical evidence about your child's condition
- whether your child receives certain benefits for their medical condition
- if your child needs care during the night
- how the other child they would normally have to share a room with, would be affected.
From 1 April 2017 similar rules were introduced where a couple are unable to share a room.
My child is away at university, can I keep their room for when they are home in the holidays?
The new size limit rules do not allow for this, unless the absence is temporary (less than thirteen weeks or 52 weeks for students) and the young person concerned intends to return home.
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 my rent be paid?
If you are assessed as under-occupying, your reduced Housing Benefit will be paid as it has been previously and the remainder of the rent will need to be paid by you to the landlord. It will be a decision for you and your landlord how this is done.
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 local authority 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 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.
The reduction will apply to the total eligible rent including any eligible service charges.
Example 1: A couple living in a three bedroom property with two children aged one and three
Rent = £60 plus service charges of £20 (£80 in total). £5 of the service charge is ineligible so total eligible rent = £75.
Applying the size criteria means that the household is deemed to be under-occupying by one bedroom.
A 14% reduction of £10.50 is applied to the eligible rent of £75 resulting in Housing Benefit entitlement of £64.50.
Example 2: A four bedroom house is occupied by a couple, and two girls under 10 and a son aged 18 who is employed.
Rent = £150 plus service charges of £50 (£200 in total). £20 of the service charges is ineligible so total eligible rent is £180
A 14% reduction is applied because they are considered to be under-occupying by one bedroom under the size criteria rules.
The eligible rent of £180 is reduced by 14% to £154.80.
A non-dependent deduction of £11.45 is applied in respect of the son after the percentage reduction is applied.
Housing Benefit = £154.80 – £11.45 = £143.35
In the case of joint tenants the eligible rent will be apportioned appropriately between the tenants after the percentage reduction has been applied.
Example 3: Three adults jointly responsible for rent live in a four bedroom property
The total eligible rent = £100.
Applying the size criteria means that the household is deemed to be under-occupying by one bedroom.
A 14% under-occupancy reduction is made from the eligible rent of £100 (£100 - £14) and then the remaining figure of £86 is apportioned three ways resulting in Housing Benefit entitlement for each tenant of £28.67.
Stewart lives in a three bedroom flat which he shares with Mohammed. The rent is £100 a week and they split the rent 50/50. Stewart currently receives Housing Benefit to cover his share of the rent.
Under the size limit rules Stewart would be considered to be under-occupying as he and Mohammed would only require two rooms.
As he is over occupying by one room a 14% reduction would be applied to the full rent making it £86, as Stewart is liable for half the rent he would then receive £43 Housing Benefit a week.
Ella is a lone parent with one child, Laura. She lives in a four bedroom flat as a joint tenant with her friend Jane and pays half of the £130 weekly rent. Jane’s earnings take her above Housing Benefit eligibility, but Ella is unemployed and entitled to Housing Benefit of the full eligible rent (half of £130 = £65).
Under the size limit rules, the accommodation is under-occupied by 1 room. Total rent = £130, minus the 14% reduction of £18.20 = £111.80. Ella’s eligible rent is half of this – that is, £55.90.
Useful Contacts, Help and Advice
South Cambridgeshire District Council Housing Services 03450 450 051
South Cambridgeshire District Council Benefits Service-0345 450 061
You can get free, independent advice about rent difficulties from several organisations.
Citizens Advice Bureau (cab)
The CAB offers free, confidential advice face-to-face or by phone. Most CABs also offer home visits, and some give email advice.
08444 111 444
Text Relay users should call 08444 111 445
National Debt Line
National Debt line is a free, confidential service offering independent advice about dealing with debt. You can get information online or by calling the free helpline.
0808 808 4000
The Money Advice Service
The Money Advice Service offers free, unbiased financial advice and money health checks that can be completed online helping you to make the most of your money. Further information can be found at
0300 500 5000