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When everyone has a home

Housing and debt helpline for Northern Ireland – 028 9024 5640

Bedroom tax in Northern Ireland

Regulations allowing for the introduction of the “social sector size criteria” or the “bedroom tax” in Northern Ireland took effect on the 20 February.  As we’ve previously reported, the impact of this change in Northern Ireland is largely mitigated, with the only threat of an actual financial detriment as a result of the change being to some social tenants who transfer or exchange their tenancies and continue to under-occupy the new property to the same or an increased level.

New regulations and guidance for GB

Last week saw the publication of new regulations and new guidance on how local authorities in England and Wales should interpret the Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of Daly & Ors, R (on the application of) (formerly known as MA and others) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2016] UKSC 58 (9 November 2016) .  In November 2016, the Supreme Court decided that there was an "inexplicable inconsistency" in the different treatment of adults and children with disabilities under the provisions of the social sector size criteria.  The judgment established case law to say that the policy unlawfully discriminates in cases where adults cannot share a bedroom due to a disability and in cases where a non-resident overnight carer is required for a child. 

These new regulations do not apply to Northern Ireland.  They will amend existing Housing Benefit legislation in England, Scotland and Wales from 1 April 2017 to allow an additional bedroom in certain cases. They will apply to Housing Benefit claimants in both the social and private rented sectors.  

The guidance clarifies how local authorities should apply the new provisions. Where an additional bedroom is required because a child or non-dependent adult in the household requires overnight care, the additional room allowance will not be given if it has already been awarded in respect of the claimant or the claimant’ partner.  Where adults are claiming that they cannot share due to a bedroom, they must show that it is not sufficient to simply put two single beds in the room and, in both cases, the person with a disability must be in receipt of certain sickness related benefits.  The qualifying benefits are

  • the middle or higher rate care component of DLA
  • higher rate Attendance Allowance
  • the daily living component of PIP or
  • Armed Forces Independent Payments.

Claimants in Northern Ireland

With a question mark sitting over the Assembly’s current status, it isn’t clear how or when we will expect local legislation to give effect to the changes necessitated by the Supreme Court’s decision.  Housing Rights has asked the relevant authorities for clarification in this regard.

The Department for Work and Pensions has previously told Housing Rights that interpreting and applying the Supreme Court’s ruling “…is a matter for authorities to decide subject to any legal ruling and dependent on the circumstances of each individual case”. Housing Rights would encourage any claimants who believe that their circumstances are similar to those in the Carmichael and Rutherford cases to contact us for advice, particularly if they are struggling with affordability issues.

While the effects of the “bedroom tax” are largely mitigated for claimants in NI, this may change after March 2020. It is important that advisers help clients to challenge decisions on room size that do not incorporate the Supreme Court’s findings as and when these decisions are made, rather than waiting for the mitigation payments to cease.

Video guide to bedroom tax

In an attempt to explain recent changes to Housing Benefit in a simple, straightforward way we’ve produced a new animation, as part of our housingadviceNI project, which is funded by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.  This short video is the latest addition to our popular “video guide” series and has already racked up significant interest on our Facebook pages, with users sharing amongst friends and family.

 

Tagged In

Benefits, Social Tenancies, Private Tenancies, Practical tips, Welfare Reform, Affordability

Author

Etain Ní Fhearghail