The Bedroom Tax and people with Spinal Cord Injury

From April 2013, new rules on under-occupancy apply for people receiving housing benefit. This change in Government policy is widely known as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ as people will be penalised for having what are considered to be ‘spare’ bedrooms.

Aspire has compiled a series of Frequently Asked Questions based on calls that we are receiving from people who are concerned about how they will be impacted by these changes. We have also consulted information from the Department for Work and Pensions and the housing charity Shelter in compiling this information.

Who will be affected?

If you are a council or housing association tenant of working age receiving housing benefit and renting a home that has more bedrooms than allowed (see below for guidance) it’s likely that your housing benefit will be reduced. If you are a pensioner, you will not be affected.

The new limit on the number of rooms you can claim for is based on the number of people living in your home. If you have more bedrooms than the new rules say you need, you will be treated as ‘under-occupying’ your home. You’ll get less of your rent paid for by housing benefit.

If housing benefit no longer covers the full cost of your rent, you will have to pay the rest of the rent yourself. If you are not able to do this, you may be entitled to help via the discretionary housing payment scheme via your local council.

Who won't be affected by the bedroom tax?

The 'bedroom tax' won't affect you if you (or your partner) have reached state pension credit age. On 1 April 2013, when the bedroom tax starts, you will have reached state pension credit age if you are a man or woman aged 61 years and 5 months.

The reduction to housing benefit for households with extra bedrooms also won't apply to:

  • people living in shared ownership properties
  • people living in caravans, mobile homes and houseboats
  • people living in some types of supported accommodation
  • homeless people housed in temporary accommodation provided by the council (unless it is owned by the council)
  • rooms allocated to people away serving in the armed forces and foster families waiting for a new foster child to arrive
  • rooms for disabled children who cannot share with a sibling

How much will be housing benefit be reduced by?

From 1 April 2013, if you have more bedrooms than the new 'bedroom tax' rules say you need, your eligible rent will be reduced by 14% if you are deemed to have one extra bedroom and by 25% if you have more than one extra bedroom. The Government estimates that on average, people affected by this change will be paying £14 per week.

How many bedrooms can you claim housing benefit for?

From April 2013, new rules on mean that you can only claim housing benefit for:

  • one bedroom for a couple
  • one bedroom for a person aged 16 or over
  • one bedroom for two children aged under 16 of the same sex
  • one bedroom for two children aged under 10 (boys and girls are expected to share a room)
  • one bedroom for any other child
  • one extra bedroom if you or your partner needs an overnight carer to stay

Children who don’t normally live with you are not included in the calculation of the number of bedrooms. If you share the care of a child, the child is counted as living in the home of the person who gets child benefit for them.  A room is counted for a student and members of the armed forces who are currently away from home, providing they live at home for at least two weeks each year.

How you could be affected by the bedroom tax

You won't be allowed to claim housing benefit for 'extra' rooms that are used for:  

  • children visiting a divorced or separated parent 
  • couples who use separate bedrooms because of illness or disability
  • rooms used by disabled adults to store medical equipment.  

Some disabled adults living in adapted or specially designed properties will face cuts to their housing benefit, but it will not be practical or affordable for them to move. You may be able to claim a discretionary housing payment if you are affected. Limited extra funds have been set aside for people in this situation.

How you will pay rent under the new rules

If the housing benefit you receive at the moment doesn’t cover all your rent and other charges, you may already be paying your landlord the difference between the housing benefit you receive and the total rent. If you are affected by the new 'bedroom tax' rules, the amount you pay may go up, but you will pay your landlord in the same way.

Until now, housing benefit may have covered the full cost of your rent. But from April 2013, being classed as ‘under-occupying your home’ will mean that you will receive a reduced amount of housing benefit. You will have to start paying start some of your rent yourself or have your local council help you with discretionary housing payments. You can also think about taking in a lodger under the rent a room scheme.

What are discretionary housing payments?

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) provide people with financial assistance when help with housing costs is needed. It is a Grant and must be applied for every year. It is allocated according to priorities set by your local council.

The Government is expecting local councils to use discretionary housing payment schemes to prioritise help for disabled people affected by the bedroom tax. However, there are no guarantees that there will be enough monies in the pot for everyone or how long the fund will last.

I cannot share a room with my partner. Am I still affected?

Some couples may not be able to practically share a room because an individual has overnight care, or sleeps on a hospital bed. Couples in this situation are still classified as only needing one room, despite the fact that they cannot share a room practically. If you are affected in this way, you should contact your local council for discretionary housing payments.

My Council has paid for adaptations to my property. Am I still affected?

Adaptations are not taken into account in working out how many bedrooms should be allocated to you according to guidance. If you do not have access to discretionary housing payments and you cannot afford to pay for the rent shortfall, you may find yourself having to move to another property and the Council having to pay tens of thousands of pounds to adapt it to your needs all over again. We hope that common sense will kick in and that the move will not be necessary.

What should I do if I am affected by the bedroom tax?

You should contact your local Council immediately and enquire about Discretionary Housing Payments. The Government has said emphasised that local councils should be prioritising these payments to help disabled people impacted by this change.

Your questions

If you have further questions, please contact our Housing Manager, Belinda Milrod, on 0208 420 8950 or our Policy and Research Officer Krupesh Hirani on 0208 420 6702. Alternatively you can email us on Housing@aspire.org.uk

We would also like you to contact us and let us know about your experiences if you are affected by the bedroom tax. This is a new policy and will affect people in different ways around the country because every local authority will have a different way of deciding who gets discretionary housing payments. We want to learn about good and bad practices so that we can gain a better understanding of how this policy is being implemented and how it affects people and use this information to lobby decision makers.

What does Aspire believe?

Aspire believes that this change is wrong. Sometimes couples are unable to share a room because one partner may have a hospital bed, or need overnight care. We find it an unnecessary burden on disabled people to have to go through further distress and be penalised for having an ‘extra’ bedroom, when quite clearly the space is being used to meet their family needs.

In properties that have already been adapted to an individual’s needs, local councils could find themselves in a position where they are paying for tens of thousands of pounds of works again, thereby paying more money rather than less.

The fact that discretionary payment is by its very nature discretionary, there is no guarantee that people with spinal cord injury will receive the help they need. People must also apply for discretionary housing payments every year.

The discretionary housing pot can also run out in a year meaning that people can be left with no payment at all if the pot becomes dry.

We will continue to argue for an exemption for disabled people for the bedroom tax.