The bedroom tax

Since the start of April 2013, the ‘bedroom tax’ has brought in new rules for people claiming housing benefit for their council or housing association homes. There is now a limit on the number of bedrooms housing benefit will help pay for.

What is 'bedroom tax'?

New housing benefit rules introduced on 1 April 2013 mean you won't be able to get housing benefit to pay for all of your rent if your home has 'spare bedrooms'. This has been called the 'bedroom tax', but letters from the council may call it 'size limit rules', 'under-occupancy' or 'under-occupancy rules'.

If you are a council or housing association tenant of working age receiving housing benefit and renting a home that has more bedrooms than you need, your housing benefit will probably be reduced. Pensioners claiming housing benefit will not be affected.

Under the new rules, the 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 rules say you need, you will be treated as ‘under-occupying’ your home. You will 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. This must be paid directly to your landlord.

Who is affected by 'bedroom tax'?

'Bedroom tax' affects council and housing association tenants of working age (below state pension age) who claim housing benefit to pay some or all of their rent.

You will only be affected if you are assessed as having 'spare' rooms. There will be a limit on the number of rooms that housing benefit will pay for. Any rooms you have above the limit will be treated as spare rooms. You will be expected to pay the rent for these extra rooms yourself.

The 'bedroom tax' affects existing housing benefit claims made before April 2013, and any claims made since. However, if you have not claimed housing benefit in the 52 weeks before making a new claim, the 'bedroom tax' reduction will not apply for the first 13 weeks of your claim.

exclamation  If you have been continuously entitled to housing benefit since 1 January 1996 you could be due a refund of housing benefit cut due to bedroom tax loophole, which means you should have been exempt from bedroom tax if you have been living in the same place since then. 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. 

Get advice if you think the bedroom tax has been applied to you in error. Contact a welfare benefits or housing adviser. You can use our directory to find an adviser near you.

Use Shelter's bedroom tax checker to find out if you are affected.

Who is exempt from 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 started, you would have reached state pension credit age if you were aged 61 years and 5 months.)

You can check if you are of pension credit age by using the state pension age calculator.

Exemptions from the reduction to housing benefit for households with extra bedrooms also 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).

How much will be housing benefit be reduced by?

Before the 'bedroom tax' changes, housing benefit calculations counted 100% of your 'eligible rent' as a starting point for assessing how much housing benefit you would be paid. 'Eligible rent' covers rent charges but not other charges such as heating that you may also pay to your council or housing association landlord.

Since April 1st 2013, if you have more bedrooms than the new 'bedroom tax' rules say you need, your 'eligible rent' will be reduced:

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

So, if you have one 'spare bedroom' and your rent is £100 per week, only £86 will count when your housing benefit is assessed. You will have to pay at least £14 to your landlord yourself.

Similarly, if you have two or more 'spare bedrooms', and your rent is £100 per week, only £75 will count when your housing benefit is assessed. You will have to pay at least £25 to your landlord yourself.

You may have to pay more – this will depend on your circumstances, income, savings and contributions from adults who live with you.

How many bedrooms can you claim housing benefit for?

Since April 2013, new rules on 'under occupancy' 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 severely disabled child who needs a room of their own won't be required to share a room. The council will make the decision on whether an extra room is needed. When making this decision, the council should take into account the severity of a child's disability (including medical evidence and if an award of disability living allowance has been made) and how regularly another child's sleep would be disturbed if they shared a room.

One extra room is allowed for approved foster carers who are fostering a child or children. You can keep the room allowance for an empty room set aside for a foster child if you became an approved foster carer or have fostered a child in the last 12 months.

If you are adopting a child or children, they are counted for the room allowance once an adoption order is made. If children are placed with you before adoption, you are allowed one room only for them.

A room is counted for a member of the armed forces who is serving away, providing they intend to return to your home.

For students away from home, a room will be counted providing they are only away temporarily (less than 52 weeks) and intend to return home.

Get advice from a welfare benefits adviser if you don't agree with the number of rooms the council says you need.

Use Shelter's directory to find a local face-to-face advice service.

How you could be affected by 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.

If you are an adult with a disability living in adapted or specially-designed property, you may face cuts to your housing benefit, but it may not be practical or affordable for you to move. Ask your council about claiming 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

You may already be paying your landlord the difference between the housing benefit and the rent, if the housing benefit you receive does not cover all your rent and other charges. If you are affected by the 'bedroom tax' rules, the amount you pay may go up, but you will pay your landlord in the same way

If housing benefit previously covered the full cost of your rent, but 'bedroom tax' rules mean you are classed as ‘under-occupying your home’ and are getting a reduced amount of housing benefit, you will have to pay some of your rent yourself. Ask your council or housing association about ways to pay this.

Use the search to find your council.

Worried about paying your rent?

If the 'bedroom tax' rules has affected you, you may be worried about how you will manage with less money. Your first priority should always be to pay the rent – if you fall into arrears, you could lose your home.

If you cannot find a way to make up the shortfall in your rent, you may have to consider moving to a smaller home in the local area, or if other suitable homes are not available locally, moving to a different area altogether.

See our page on what you can do if the bedroom tax affects you.