Bedroom tax loophole

If you’ve been living in the same home and have claimed housing benefit continuously from before 1 January 1996, a legal loophole in the bedroom tax meant your housing benefit should not have been cut. This loophole has since been closed but you can still get a refund.

What was the bedroom tax loophole?

In January 2014 the UK Government announced that bedroom tax cuts to housing benefit should not have been applied to some people. The loophole applied to people who have been claiming housing benefit continuously for the same home since 1 January 1996.

Those affected include people who have been working for low wages or are long-term sick or disabled. You may also be due a refund if you took over a benefit claim when a partner or family member died or from a former partner following a relationship breakdown.

The bedroom tax only affects council and housing association tenants. If the loophole applied to you, the council owes you money. All the money cut from your housing benefit from 1 April 2013 to 2 March 2014 should be refunded into your rent account. The council may contact you about this if it checks its records and agrees a mistake has been made.

Closing the loophole

The UK Government closed this loophole on 3 March 2014. If you were affected by the loophole, the bedroom tax deductions will apply to you again from this date.

Asking for a refund of bedroom tax deductions

Even though the loophole has now closed you could be entitled to a refund.

You should ask the council for a review of your housing benefit award from 1 April 2013. Do this by writing to the council’s housing benefit department and telling them when you first made your claim. You'll also need to tell the council that you have been claiming without a break for 17 years. But if you have had any short breaks in your claim you should provide details.

The council must change its decision to cut your housing benefit if agrees that the bedroom tax rules should not have been applied to you. Your housing benefit should be increased and you will be entitled to a full refund for the period from 1 April 2013 to 2 March 2014.

The government has asked local councils to check if they can use their records to identify people who are due a refund. You don’t have to wait for the council to contact you first.

Were you covered by the loophole?

You would have been covered by the bedroom tax loophole if:

  • you have been continuously claiming housing benefit from on or before 1 January 1996, and
  • you have been living in the same home since that date.

Use Shelter's sample letter to ask for a refund of bedroom tax. 

Other people covered by the bedroom tax loophole

There were four exceptions in the bedroom tax loophole.

1. If you had a short break in your claim

Some breaks in entitlement to housing benefit won't be counted. You can be treated as being continuously entitled to housing benefit if you stopped claiming for any periods of four weeks or less, or you or your partner was on a welfare to work scheme and you stopped claiming for 52 week or less.

2. If you moved home

You could still have been covered by the bedroom tax loophole if you had to move because your home was so badly affected by fire, flood, explosion or a natural disaster that nobody could live there.

Use Shelter's sample letter to ask for a refund of bedroom tax because you had to temporarily move home. 

3. If someone died

The bedroom tax loophole could have applied to you if you took over claiming housing benefit from someone who died. Your partner, relative or family member must have originally claimed housing benefit from 1 January 1996 or earlier and continued to claim until their death. You must have been living together in the same home on the date they died. You must have made your claim for housing benefit within four weeks of the person's death.

Use Shelter's sample letter to ask for a refund of bedroom tax because you took over a tenancy after a death. 

4. If your partner left home

The bedroom tax loophole could have applied to you if you split up from your partner who was claiming housing benefit from 1 January 1996 or earlier and you claimed housing benefit for the same home within four weeks of them leaving.

Use Shelter's sample letter to ask for a refund of bedroom tax because you took over the tenancy after your partner left or was sent to prison.

How to show that you were covered by the loophole

Hopefully council and housing association records of what housing benefit or rent has been paid will go back as far as 1996. It's worth asking what records there are. The council won't expect you to have 17 years' worth of housing benefit letters or rent statements filed away at home. But if you do, you can use them as evidence.

If records don't exist or can't be found, you may need to find ways to provide evidence that could help your case. You can use official records such as phone bills, utility bills, health records such as registration with a GP and the electoral register to show you have been living in your home for this time.

Other evidence you can provide depends on your situation:

  • If you have been ill or disabled, you may be able to show when you first claimed sickness benefits, income support or other benefits. Your doctor may have a note of when you were first signed off sick and for medical certificates signed to confirm you were not fit to work. Letters sent to hospitals could include a summary of your situation at home.
  • If you have worked part time or on a low income, check if you have kept records of your P60s for tax, wage slips, contracts of employment or letters from your employers.

Can you keep discretionary housing payments?

You are likely to be allowed to keep any discretionary housing payments paid by your council to top-up your housing benefit between 1 April 2013 and 2 March 2014 , even if the payments were made to help with hardship caused by cutting your housing benefit because of the bedroom tax.

Get help from a welfare rights adviser

A welfare rights adviser can help you write to the council and advise on the evidence you need. Use our directory to find your nearest Citizen’s Advice or other advice agency.

If the council turns down your request for a bedroom tax refund, you can appeal to a tribunal. The tribunal will listen to what you have to say, look at any evidence provided and will decide what should happen.

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