The 'bedroom tax'

If you have a spare bedroom and you're renting from the council or a housing association and getting housing benefit, then the amount of benefit you receive may be reduced. This is commonly known as 'the bedroom tax'.

Reduced housing benefit if you have a spare bedroom

If you're of working age, receiving housing benefit and renting a property that's bigger than you need, it's likely that your benefit will be reduced. If you have more bedrooms than you need for your household then you'll lose a percentage of your housing benefit. This is referred to as 'under-occupying' your home or 'the bedroom tax'.

How many bedrooms can I get housing benefit for?

These 'under occupancy' changes mean that you can only claim housing benefit for one bedroom for each of these people who live in your home:

  • a couple
  • an adult
  • two children of the same sex
  • two children under 10
  • any other child
  • a non-resident carer providing overnight care.

This is the same as for people claiming housing benefit in the private sector. However, the rules for people under 35 claiming housing benefit and the limit on the number of bedrooms you can claim for won't apply to council and housing association tenants.

Joint tenants and the bedroom tax

If you are a joint tenant, then your claim should be worked out in the same way as any other claim. You will need to inform the council about who lives in your household. Once the size of the household has been worked out then the normal bedroom size-criteria rules will be applied. The council should take not take into consideration how the rooms are divided up between the joint tenants.

If you are under-occupying your home then your housing benefit will be reduced (see below), the council should take into consideration how the rent is divided between the joint tenants. In addition to this, you will now have to inform the council of any changes in your household, as well as any changes regarding any joint tenant.

How much will my housing benefit be reduced by?

If you have more bedrooms than you need then a percentage reduction will be applied to your eligible rent for the purposes of your housing benefit claim:

  • 14% will be taken off if you have one extra bedroom, or
  • 25% will be taken off if you have two extra bedrooms.

Challenging your 'bedroom tax' decision

You can challenge your 'bedroom tax' decision, but you only have one month from the date the council wrote to you saying that your housing benefit is going to be reduced because you are under-occupying your home, to do so.

How can I pay the rest of my rent?

There are several things you can do:

  • take in a lodgerrenting out a spare room would bring in extra income, but get the agreement of your landlord first and check whether this will affect any other benefits that you're currently receiving, the first £20 of any rent you receive won't count as income on your benefit claim
  • ask for a contribution to your rent - your family members may be able to pay more towards your rent
  • move to a smaller property – you may be able to transfer to a smaller property, speak to your council or the housing association you're renting from to see if you can apply to do this 
  • apply for a discretionary housing payment – your local council may be able to give you temporary support to help you stay in your home through a discretionary housing payment.

If you can't pay all your rent after the reduction you may have to think about finding somewhere else to live or you will risk falling behind with your rent and possibly being evicted. Speak to an adviser in your area as soon as possible if you're worried that this may happen to you.

Are there any exemptions to the 'under occupancy' changes?

The reduction to housing benefit for households with extra bedrooms will not apply to:

  • pensioners
  • approved foster carers and kinship carers
  • parents of adult children who are in the Armed Forces, who still live with parents 
  • people living in shared ownership properties
  • people living in accommodation like caravans, houseboats
  • some exempt supported accommodation
  • carers and overnight carers.

Councils have discretion to decide if the 'under occupancy' changes should be made when there is a child with disabilities who arguably could require their own bedroom.

Bedroom tax loophole for tenants who moved in before 1 January 1996  

If you have been receiving housing benefit since 1 January 1996, and have been living in the same property during this time, you could be due a refund of housing benefit. Some short breaks in claim are allowed and you'll continue to be exempt if you had to move because a fire or flood meant your original home wasn't fit to live in.

You should ask the council to look again at your housing benefit award if have been in receipt of housing benefit since 1 January 1996. Don't wait for the council to contact you. Ask for a review of your housing benefit award from 1 April 2013. Do this by writing to the council's housing benefit department. 

Temporary accommodation 

Council owned homeless temporary accommodation is included in the under occupancy changes. This means a deduction will apply if you're placed in this type of accommodation and it's too big for your needs under housing benefit rules. If you're in this situation you should apply for a discretionary housing payment.

The important points

  • The removal of the housing benefit spare room subsidy is also called the 'bedroom tax'.
  • If you have more bedrooms than you need for your household then you’ll lose a percentage of your housing benefit.
  • Your eligible rent, for housing benefit purposes, will be reduced by 14% for one extra bedroom or 25% for two extra bedrooms.
  • You can challenge your ‘bedroom tax’ decision, but you only have one month from the date the council wrote to you saying that your housing benefit is going to be reduced.

Speak to a Shelter Scotland adviser

Call Shelter Scotland's free housing advice helpline

0808 800 4444
9am-5pm, Monday to Friday

Email an adviser

You can also email a housing adviser. We aim to respond within three working days.

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