From April 2013 Welfare Reform changes have taken place which means Housing Benefit is potentially reduced for households deemed to be under-occupying a property.
Set out below are responses to some frequently asked questions regarding these changes:
Q. How is my property assessed for under-occupation and therefore a reduction in my housing benefit?
A. This decision is based on the number of bedrooms at the property and the number of people living at the property, their age, sex and relationship to the tenant. The Council follows the Housing Benefit (Amendment) regulations 2012 when making this determination.
This legislation sets out that one bedroom is allowed for:
- Each adult couple.
- Any other person aged 16 or over.
- Two children of the same sex under the age of 16.
- Two children under the age of 10 regardless of their sex.
- Any other child.
- A carer (who does not normally live with you) if you or your partner need overnight care.
- A registered foster carer is allowed an additional bedroom even if no foster child is present provided there has been a child fostered in the past twelve months or the registration has happened within the last twelve months.
- A bedroom is allowed for a son or daughter who is in the armed forces whilst they are deployed on operations provided it is otherwise their principal home.
- Children who are unable to share a bedroom because of a severe disability.
Q. What if my partner has a disability/medical condition which means we need to sleep in separate bedrooms?
A. As of March 2017 the Government has agreed exceptions to the Spare Room Subsidy for parents who need an extra room for their disabled child's carer and couples who cannot share a bedroom due to physical disability.
Q. What is a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP)?
A. The Government give Local Authorities a limited amount of money to pay out each year as DHP’s. This fund is administered by the Council for those households considered to be in real need of additional help with their housing costs. Awards of DHP are based on a detailed household financial assessment and proof of financial circumstances such as copies of bank statements will be needed in order to assess a claim. DHP information leaflets and application forms are available from the Council.
Q. I have a child/member of my family staying on a regular basis so need an extra room?
A. The under-occupation legislation still applies unless it is the child/family members principal home. For a child this is usually determined by who/where the child benefit is paid to.
Q. My son/daughter is away at college but needs a room?
A. Children who are living away are not included as a member of the household unless their absence is temporary (less than 13 weeks or 52 weeks for students) and the young person concerned intends to return home. Therefore if your son or daughter is at college and returns home outside term times the Council can allow for this room provided proof of this arrangement is forwarded to the benefits department. i.e. copies of letters confirming course details/term times and a declaration that outside term times the son/daughter intends to return to live at the property.
Q. How much rent will I need to pay if I am under-occupying my property?
A. This will depend on your current housing benefit entitlement however your maximum eligible rent will reduce by 14% if you are under-occupying by one bedroom and by 25% for two or more bedrooms. In some cases if you are only receiving a small amount of housing benefit your entitlement will stop due to the new regulations.
Q. One of my bedrooms is small. It is less than 50 ft sq/70 ft sq and under the 1985 Housing Act this states it will be overcrowded if occupied by someone over 10 years old?
A. The 1985 Housing Act sets out minimum room sizes in order to make a determination as to whether a property is overcrowded or not. This legislation is not applicable to any other circumstances. Statutory overcrowding is difficult to achieve because under the terms of this legislation most rooms within a home can be used for someone to live in including bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens (subject to suitable layout and size requirements as laid out in the Act).
There is no minimum bedroom size set out in regulations.
Q. As the process for deciding how many bedrooms my property has rests with the HB decision maker please tell me the council’s formal definition of what is a bedroom?
A. We do not have a formal definition of a bedroom and there is no minimum room size set out in regulations. All properties are accurately described in the Tenancy Agreement which is a legal document all tenants are given prior to moving in to a rented property. The Tenancy Agreement sets out the address of the property and the number of bedrooms it has which is reflected in the rent charged for the property. All tenants sign to say they agree with the terms and conditions set out in the Tenancy Agreement for a property prior to moving in.
Q. My housing benefit has reduced and I am finding it difficult to pay the rent, what can I do?
A. Please contact us as we have a range of options to discuss with you which may help your situation including:
- Consider moving to a smaller property where you will not be under-occupied and therefore not subject to a reduction in housing benefit.
- Taking in a lodger using an accredited lodger scheme.
- Independent financial/benefits advice which is usually provided via Cambridge Citizens Advice Bureau.
- Help and support to find employment via work skills development training such as help with preparing CV’s, applying for jobs and interview techniques.
We understand that the above options may not be suitable for all people however we would encourage all residents to contact us if they are having difficulty paying the rent. If rent arrears start to escalate for a property this would lead to us considering legal action to recover the outstanding rent and could ultimately put someone’s tenancy at risk.
Q. Please advise of the council’s policy for formally notifying me of the bedroom tax decision?
A. All tenants potentially being affected by a reduction in Housing Benefit through under-occupation from April 2013 were written to initially in August 2012. People were asked to contact us to confirm their circumstances and to receive support and advice from officers on minimizing the impact of the Welfare Reform changes.
Notifications of the decision to reduce housing benefit due to under-occupation were sent out via the usual year end letters as per our New Claims procedure following HB regulations (HBR90).
Useful Contact Details for further information:
Housing General enquiries 03450 450 051 Or email Duty.Housing@scambs.gov.uk
Housing Benefit claim enquiries 03450 450 061