Under-occupation - (also known as the Social Sector Size Criteria Restrictions or Spare Room Subsidy)
From April 2013, the government has introduced a cut in Housing Benefit payments for people of working age who are thought to have a spare room and are renting in the social sector (from the Council or a Housing Association). This means that for anyone who is of working age on 1 April 2013, the government will no longer pay full Housing Benefit if you are under-occupying a property.
What will change?
Tenants who have one bedroom more than they need will see a reduction in their weekly Housing Benefit of 14% of the rent charge.
Tenants who have two or more bedrooms than they need will see a reduction in their weekly Housing Benefit of 25% of the rent charged.
To see if you are affected please use our online tool.
How will the government calculate the number of bedrooms I am entitled to?
One bedroom will be allowed for each of the following:
- A couple
- A person aged 16 or older
- Two children of the same sex until they are 16
- Two children of the opposite sex until one reaches 10
- Where the claimant or partner requires over night care
The reduction will also apply to residents who do not have full time access to children, as this is not classed as the child’s main home.
A bedroom for a non-resident carer may be allowed where they provide overnight care for a person with a disability.
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.
Household members in the Armed Forces will be treated as continuing to live at home when deployed on operations, and will therefore be allowed a bedroom whilst they are away on active service.
In addition, local councils have been advised to allow an extra bedroom for children who are unable to share because of their severe disabilities. However, this will depend on the individual circumstances of each case, and also the extent of the disability which will need to be assessed.
* A non-resident carer may be allowed a bedroom if they provide overnight care for
a person with a disability.
I will be affected because I am under-occupying my property. What options do I have?
If you are a tenant of a Housing Association, please contact them directly to discuss what can be done to help you.
The following options are open to you if you are affected by the bedroom size criteria restrictions:
- Set up a Direct Debit now if you are a council tenant, and we will start taking payments from your account when the bedroom size criteria restrictions come into affect. For more information visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/payrent.
- Move to an appropriately sized home in the social or private rented sector. If you wish to stay in social housing you can:
- Ask non-dependants (other adults in the household) to contribute to help pay the rent.
- Take in a lodger. You must check with your landlord to see if you are able to take in a lodger, as in some cases this might be a breach in your conditions of tenancy and it could also affect your Housing Benefit entitlement.
- Ask your employer to increase your hours of work.
- Look for suitable employment if you don't already work. You can carry out a job search at www.gov.uk/jobs-jobsearch.
- Apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment. If you currently receive Housing Benefit, you may still have to pay something towards your rent. If you are suffering severe financial hardship as a result, or your tenancy is at risk you may be able to get a discretionary payment to help towards these payments. For more information and a form visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/dhp.
What if one partner in a couple is over state pension credit age?
If one member of a couple receiving housing benefit is over state pension credit age, then the reduction in their housing benefit because they are under-occupying (known as the social sector size criteria restrictions) will not apply to them.
Am I allowed a room for a foster child?
The government has announced that approved foster carers will be allowed one additional room, so long as they have fostered a child, or become an approved foster carer in the last 12 months.
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 responsible for them and provides their main home.
If a child 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 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 13 weeks or 52 weeks for students) and the young person concerned intends to return home.
My partner has just passed away. Am I going to be expected to move as well?
No, the size limit rules would not be applied for a period of 12 months from the date of death.
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, primarily 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 of your claim. They will be applied earlier than 13 weeks if you move home or have another change of circumstances.
Under-occupation charge (or size criteria) examples
Mr Jones lives on his own in a two bed house with a rent of £80 per week. He is currently on full Housing Benefit.
Mr Jones will get a benefit cut of 14% of the rent for the one bedroom he under-occupies. The cut will be £11.20, which Mr Smith will need to start paying immediately.
Mr and Mrs Singh live on their own, in a three bed house with an eligible rent of £110 per week. They receive partial Housing Benefit of £30.
Mr and Mrs Singh will get a benefit cut of 25% of the eligible rent for the two bedrooms they under-occupy. The cut will be £27.50. This means only £2.50 Housing Benefit will now be paid. They will now have to pay £107.50 each week.
Mr and Mrs Smith live in a three bed house with a rent of £120 per week. They have two children, a girl aged nine and a boy aged seven. They currently receive full Housing Benefit.
Mr and Mrs Smith will get a Benefit cut of 14% of the rent for the one bedroom that is under-occupied. This is because the two children are expected to share a room. However, when the girl reaches the age of 10 they will need to contact the Rent Service to get advice as the charge will no longer apply.
Welfare Reform - Checklist
You can use the checklist below to prepare for some of the Welfare Reform changes.
- Check whether I have to pay because I am under-occupying my property by using the online tool
- Check whether I will be affected by the Benefit Cap
- Set up a Basic Bank Account in preparation for Universal Credit
- Download or use an online budget planner to help me budget
- Set up Direct Debit to pay my rent now or in the future
Further advice and guidance
If you are a Birmingham City Council tenant, you can get advice on how you are affected by contacting the Rent Service on 0121 675 2006. They can discuss the options available to you, or refer you to a free independent debt advice service.
If you are not a Birmingham City Council tenant, you should contact your landlord directly.
If you're worried that the benefit changes will reduce the money you have coming in, it's a good idea to start thinking ahead. Use the links below to help you plan and get further online advice.
Loan Sharks - Find out how to get help if you have been affected by illegal money lenders (also known as loan sharks).
Benefit Calculator - Get an estimate of what benefits you could get (including Housing Benefit).
Make a Housing Benefit claim online - If you are having problems paying your rent or Council Tax, then you might be able to get help towards paying these bills.
Report a change in circumstances to Benefits - If your circumstances have changed report this online to Benefit Services.
The Money Advice Service - Carry out a free online money health check or use some of the other helpful online tools, such as the money stretcher calculator.
Citizens Advice Bureau - Get free online advice on your rights including benefits, housing, employment, debt and legal matters.
Birmingham City Council Debt Advice Service - The Debt Advice Team takes a realistic and practical approach to helping people who are experiencing severe debt problems.
Department of Work and Pensions - Get information on benefits, pensions and jobs.
Citysave Credit Union - This is a community based financial organisation. It offers accounts such as savings, bill payment and budgeting and loans.