Size-related criteria for universal credit housing costs element

Calculation of the housing costs element under universal credit for claimants in private and social rented sector, bedroom entitlement and under-occupancy.

This content applies to England

Basic calculation for claimants in the social rented sector

The following calculation is used to calculate the housing costs element for tenants of local authorities and housing associations:[1]

  • the monthly contractual rent plus any eligible service charges 

  • less any under-occupation deduction 

  • less any housing cost contributions, that is non-dependant deductions

For working-age claimants only, see 'Under occupancy in the social rented sector'.

Basic calculation for claimants in the private rented sector

This covers claimants in:

  • private rented accommodation

  • temporary accommodation, where the local authority is the landlord, and it is provided in discharge of a duty under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996

The housing costs element is worked out based on the lower of:[2]

  • the 'core rent', that is the monthly contractual rent plus any eligible service charges, or

  • the 'cap rent', that is the maximum rent allowed for under the local housing allowance, depending on the tenant's bedroom entitlement or whether they receive the shared accommodation rate, and the broad rental market area in which the claimant lives[3]

  • less any deductions for housing cost contributions, that is non-dependant deductions

Broad rental market area

Every property will fall within a distinct broad rental market area (BRMA). A BRMA consists of an area of residential accommodation, within which a person could reasonably be expected to live, containing accommodation of different types and tenancies. The Rent Officer is required to define each BRMA. Once defined, the BRMA will apply to the different sizes of properties, according to bedroom size, falling within that area.[4]

Size-related criteria for joint tenants

Where the claimant is a joint tenant, and the joint tenants are not a couple, the contractual, core or cap rent (plus any eligible service charges), as appropriate, is apportioned between the tenants if the local housing allowance (LHA) rules do not apply.[5]

Where the LHA rules apply, the eligible rent is the lower of the claimant's actual share of the monthly rent, or the LHA figure which applies to the claimant. 

Bedroom entitlement

A claimant is only entitled to the housing costs element for the number of bedrooms they are entitled to under the regulations for their 'extended benefit unit'. This applies to claimants in the private rented sector and to claimants of working age in the social rented sector. The housing costs element of a claimant over working age in the social rented sector is not restricted by reference to a bedroom entitlement.

The extended benefit unit is:[6]

  • the claimant

  • the claimant's partner

  • any child or young person for whom they receive child benefit, and

  • any non-dependant, including a resident carer

General rule

The claimant is entitled to one bedroom for each of the following:[7]

  • an adult couple

  • a single person aged 16 or over, not including lodgers

  • any two children of the same sex under the age of 16

  • any two children regardless of sex under the age of 10

  • any other child under the age of 16

Additional bedroom rule

An additional bedroom is allowed if:[8]

  • the claimant or their partner is disabled and requires a non-resident carer to provide overnight care

  • from 1 April 2017, a disabled child or other member of the extended benefit unit requires a non-resident carer to provide overnight care

  • a child who cannot share a bedroom because of a disability (the entitlement is to as many bedrooms as necessary so that each disabled child has its own room)

  • from 1 April 2017, a couple is unable to share a bedroom because of a disability

  • the claimant or their partner, if they claim universal credit as a couple, is a foster carer

A room used for the storage of medical or special equipment is not to be counted as an additional bedroom under the regulations.[9]

An additional bedroom will also be allowed where a member of the claimant's benefit unit is temporarily absent from home in certain circumstances, for example, if that person is on service in the Armed Forces and intends to return to the claimant's home, or if the person is in prison and is not expected to remain in custody for longer than six months.[10]

Additional bedrooms for claimants in the private-rented sector are subject to the four-bedroom maximum cap.

Disabled persons

In order to qualify for an additional bedroom for a non-resident carer or because they cannot share a bedroom, the disabled person must be in receipt of one or more of:[11]

  • care component of DLA at the higher or middle rate

  • attendance allowance (non-resident carer condition)/attendance allowance at the higher rate (can't share a bedroom condition)

  • daily living component of personal independence payment (PIP)

  • armed forces independence payment

Carers

A bedroom for a resident overnight carer living in the claimant’s home should be allowed under the general rules set out above.

An additional bedroom for a non-resident overnight carer should be allowed when it is 'reasonably required' by a:[12]

  • disabled claimant or their disabled cohabiting partner (any rate of attendance allowance qualifies)

  • from 1 April 2017, disabled child

  • from 1 April 2017, disabled non-dependant adult

A bedroom will be 'reasonably required' if the non-resident carer 'regularly' stays overnight. This might be when care is provided by a team of carers. Whether a bedroom is 'regularly' used needs to be assessed over a long period, and it is not necessary that a carer stays overnight on the majority of nights.[13]

Foster care

An additional bedroom will be allowed if the claimant (or their partner, if they claim universal credit as a couple):[14]

  • has a foster child living with them. or

  • is between placements and has fostered a child in the last 12 months, or

  • became an approved foster carer in the last 12 months

There must be a 'spare bedroom' in the home in order for an additional bedroom to be allowed. Only one extra bedroom is permitted regardless of the number or sex of foster children in the claimant's household.

Adult placement schemes

The Upper Tribunal has ruled that it is discriminatory not to allow a room for an adult needing care under an adult placement scheme (as respite care or under a longer term arrangement), where a room is allowed for a foster child.[15] However, if the Secretary of State applies to appeal against this decision, a room will not be granted unless the appeal fails.[16]

Children in the Armed Forces

An additional bedroom is allowed if the claimant, or their partner, has a child or stepchild who is in the Armed Forces and:[17]

  • is away 'on operations'

  • was living at the claimant's home immediately before leaving to go on operations

  • intends to return to the claimant's home

The term 'on operations' covers being on duty outside the UK, pre-deployment training and post-operation leave ('normalisation').

Separated parents

If parents are separated and they share the care of a child, the child will only be taken into account when calculating the bedroom entitlement of the main carer.[18]

Lodgers

A lodger is not part of a claimant's 'extended benefit unit', and is not included when calculating the bedroom entitlement. However, the rental income from a lodger is fully disregarded when assessing the claimant's income.[19]

Joint tenants

Where joint tenants are not part of an extended benefit unit each joint tenant will be allowed:

  • a bedroom[20]

  • an additional bedroom where the rules outlined above apply. For example, if the joint tenants each have a disabled child who is in need of a non-resident overnight carer[21]

Larger properties: private rented sector

The housing costs element for claimants in private sector accommodation with five or more bedrooms is limited to the four bedroom rate.[22]

Under-occupancy in the social rented sector

If a claimant is under-occupying their home (the number of bedrooms is more than allowed for, see 'Bedroom entitlement'), their monthly contractual rent (plus any eligible service charges) will be reduced, for the purposes of calculating the housing costs that will be covered under universal credit, by:[23]

  • 14% for under-occupancy by one bedroom,

  • 25% for under-occupancy by two or more bedrooms

This reduction is commonly referred to as the 'bedroom tax'. See Restrictions on eligible rents for social rented sector tenants for more information.

No deduction is to be made in respect of under-occupied shared ownership properties.

Claimants of pension age

If a claimant has reached the age to qualify for pension credit, they will be exempt from the bedroom tax. If the claimant is part of a couple, both must have reached the age to qualify for pension credit to be exempt from the bedroom tax.[24] The state pension calculator on Gov.uk can be used to calculate the age a claimant will qualify for pension credit.

Excessive rents in the social rented sector

If the amount being paid for accommodation in the social rented sector is considered to be unreasonably high, an application can be made to a rent officer to make a rent determination. Where the amount determined by the rent officer is lower than that being charged by the social landlord, this lower amount will be used for the purposes of calculating the housing costs element.[25]

Shared accommodation rate in the private rented sector

The shared accommodation rate, in respect of the housing costs elements, is applied to single claimants, with no dependants who are aged under 35, subject to the exceptions set out below.

A single claimant with no dependants who is aged 35 or over will be subject to the one-bedroom rate regardless of the accommodation they live in – even if it is shared accommodation.

Claimants who receive the shared accommodation rate are referred to as 'specified renters'.[26] This rate is equivalent to the broad rental market area rate for a room in shared house in the area where they are living.[27]

There are exceptions to the shared accommodation rate and some claimants can receive more housing cost element of universal credit even if they are under 35 and single. Private tenants who claim housing benefit (local housing allowance) are subject to slightly different rules.

Exception for care leavers

Certain care leavers aged under 25 are exempt from the shared accommodation rate.

A claimant who is aged 18 or over but under 25 is exempt if they were an eligible or relevant child under the Children Act 1989 before turning 18.[28]

Before May 31 2021 the exemption only applied to care leavers under the age of 22.

Exception for people who have stayed in homeless hostels

A claimant who is at least 16 years old and under 35 will not have the shared accommodation rate applied to them if they have lived in a homeless hostel for at least three months, and accepted help to be rehabilitated or resettled into the community.[29]

The three month period does not have to be continuous, or in a single hostel, or immediately before the claim for universal credit is made.

DWP guidance says that accommodation provided under the 'Everyone In' initiative during the coronavirus pandemic may satisfy the definition of a hostel where the conditions are met.

Before May 31 2021 this exemption only applied to people aged 25 to 34.

Exception for people with disabilities

A claimant under 35 will not have the shared accommodation rate applied to them if they are in receipt of either:[30]

  • the daily living component of personal independence payment

  • the care component of disability living allowance (middle or highest rate)

  • attendance allowance

Exception for ex-offenders subject to MAPPA

A claimant under 35 will not have the shared accommodation rate applied to them if they are an ex-offender who poses a risk of serious harm to the public and are subject to a Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangement (MAPPA). [31]

Last updated: 18 March 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    sch.4 Part 5 para 34 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [2]

    sch.4 Part 4 para 22 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [3]

    Rent Officers (Universal Credit Functions) Order 2013; sch.4 Part 4 para. 25 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [4]

    reg 3 Rent Officers (Universal Credit Functions) Order 2013 SI 2013/382.

  • [5]

    sch.4 Parts 4 and 5 paras 24 and 35 Universal Credit Regulations 2013; HB Circular A12/2013.

  • [6]

    sch.4 Part 3 para 9 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [7]

    sch.4 Part 3 para 10(1) Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [8]

    sch.4 Part 3 para 12 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376 as amended by reg 6 Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Size Criteria) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2017 SI 2017/213.

  • [9]

    see R (on the application of MA & others) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2016] UKSC 58.

  • [10]

    sch.4 Part 3 para 11 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [11]

    sch. 4 Part 3 para 12 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376 as amended by Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Size Criteria) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013 SI 2013/2828 and Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Size Criteria) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2017 SI 2017/213.

  • [12]

    sch. 4 Part 3 para 12 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376 as amended by reg 6 Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Size Criteria) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2017 SI 2017/213.

  • [13]

    SD v Eastleigh Borough Council (HB) [2014] UKUT 325 (AAC).

  • [14]

    sch. 4 Part 3 para 12 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 as amended with effect from 4 December 2013 by Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Size Criteria) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013 SI 2013/2828.

  • [15]

    Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v PE and Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council (HB) [2017] UKUT 393 (AAC).

  • [16]

    s.25, Social Security Act 1998.

  • [17]

    sch. 4 Part 3 para 11 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 as amended by reg 2(3)(d) Universal Credit (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013 SI 2013/803.

  • [18]

    reg 4(4)-(5) Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [19]

    sch.4 Part 3 para 9 Universal Credit Regulations 2013; para 7.18 Explanatory memorandum to Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [20]

    sch.4 Part 3 para 10(1) Universal Credit Regulations 2013 SI 2013/376 .

  • [21]

    sch.4 Part 3 para 12 Universal Credit Regulations 2013  SI 2013/376  as amended by reg 6 Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Size Criteria) (Miscellaneous Amendments SI 2017/213.

  • [22]

    sch.4 Part 4 para 26 Universal Credit Regulations 2013; para 10 HB/CTB Circular A6/2012.

  • [23]

    sch.4 Part 5 para 36 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [24]

    reg 3(2) Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [25]

    sch.4 Part 5 para 32 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [26]

    sch.4 Part 4 para 28 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [27]

    art.3 Rent Officers (Universal Credit Functions) Order 2013.

  • [28]

    sch.4 Part 4 para 29 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 as amended by Universal Credit (Care Leavers and Looked After Children) Amendment Regulations 2016 SI 2016/543 and the Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Care Leavers and Homeless) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 SI No.546/2021. See sch.2 para 19B Children Act 1989 for the definition of an eligible child and s. 23A Children Act 1989 for the definition of a relevant child

  • [29]

    sch.4 Part 4 para 29 Universal Credit Regulations 2013 as amended by the Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Care Leavers and Homeless) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 SI No.546/2021.

  • [30]

    sch.4 Part 4 para 29 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.

  • [31]

    sch.4 Part 4 para 29 Universal Credit Regulations 2013.