From 1 April 2013 housing benefit will include a size limit rule for working age people renting from a local authority, a registered housing association or other registered social landlord.
What are the changes?
The new rules will restrict the size of accommodation you can receive housing benefit for, based on the number of people in your household.
The new rules allow one bedroom for:
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, (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 with overnight care.
*The Government have recently announced that where a child is severely disabled and as a result of that disability they are unable to share a bedroom, Local Authorities can award Housing Benefit on this basis. If you have been told that your rent will be restricted from April 2013 and you have a disabled child who is in receipt of the middle or the highest rate of disability living allowance, please contact the Benefit Office without delay. The Government have also stated that where a claimant is a Foster Parent or has been a Foster Parent in the past 12 months, we can award them one additional bedroom when calculating the number of bedroom they are entitled to.
How could you be affected?
It is possible that the amount of housing benefit you get to pay your rent could go down.
If you are assessed under these rules as having more bedrooms than are necessary for your household, you will be considered to be under-occupying that property.
If you are under-occupying there will be a reduction in your housing benefit. The amount allowed for rent and any service charges will be reduced by:
14% for under-occupancy by one bedroom
25% for under-occupancy by two bedrooms or more.
If you are currently under-occupying, or are thinking of moving to a larger property where you will be under-occupying, you need to consider how these changes will affect you financially.
You may be able to get a discretionary housing payment to make up all or some of the reduction - please ask us about this.
Will it affect everyone who is under-occupying?
The changes will not affect claimants who are of pensionable age. If you (or your partner if applicable) were born before 6 October 1951 your rent will not be restricted under these rules regardless of the size of your property.
When will these changes take effect?
The new size limit rules are due to take effect on 1 April 2013.
How will I know if it affects me?
We have written to everyone we think may be under-occupying their property to confirm how many people live there and the number of bedrooms. We will write again shortly before April 2013 to confirm any reduction in housing benefit and how much the reduction will be.
What can I do?
It is important that you start to consider what your options might be and, where necessary, talk to your landlord or us. You could consider the following options:
If your financial and household situation is unlikely to change and you feel you would not be able to make up the shortfall in your rent on a long-term basis, you may decide it would be appropriate to move to a smaller property. Your landlord will be able to discuss this option with you and whether they have alternative accommodation available.
Ask other residents to increase their contribution
If you have other adults living with you, such as a grown up son or daughter, you may wish to consider asking them to pay more towards your rent than they currently do in order to help with the shortfall.
Take in a lodger
If you have a spare room you could consider renting this out to help with the rent. You should first check with your landlord whether this is permitted under the terms of your tenancy, and if you are currently in receipt of income support, job seekers allowance or employment support allowance, you should check with the Department of Work and Pensions if this will affect other benefits.
Take a job / increase your hours of employment
If you are not currently working, finding employment could help you with this shortfall. Depending on your current circumstances you will normally be able to earn a small amount without it affecting your benefits. Similarly, if you are currently working, increasing your working hours will normally mean you are better off financially. If you do chose to return to work or increase your working hours, remember to tell the Benefit Office and (if applicable) the Department of Work and Pensions of this change.
Apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment
In certain circumstances we can award you additional help towards your rent via the Discretionary Housing Payment scheme. This is a fund to help claimants who we feel need further assistance with their housing costs. If there are genuine and compelling reasons why you need an additional bedroom or are unable to move to a smaller property - for example, if you or a member of your household are disabled and your property has been adapted to cater for this - you may wish to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment to cover the shortfall.
Please note: We expect there to be a significant demand on these funds and cannot guarantee every application will be successful, or that we can only award additional help for a limited period to give you time to make alternative arrangements.
Discretionary Housing Payment application forms are available from us. However, applications will not be considered before March 2013.
Where can I find out more?
You can call us on 020 8207 7404 or visit us at the address below.
Your landlord will also be aware of these changes and may have already written to you regarding this. They will be able to give you advice on what housing options are available to you. If, as a result of this change, you fall behind with your rent it is very important you speak to your Housing Association without delay.
Citizen's Advice Bureau - www.citizensadvice.org.uk - 020 8953 9961
Shelter Hertfordshire - www.shelter.org.uk - 0344 515 1944