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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

What is “Bedroom Tax” and how will the mitigations work?

On Monday 16th January, the mitigations for the Social Sector Size Criteria (“bedroom tax”) were approved by the Assembly. Here we look in detail at what the “bedroom tax” policy is, and how the mitigations will work in practice.

What is the bedroom tax?

The “bedroom tax” – formally known as the Social Sector Size Criteria – is a Housing Benefit policy originally introduced in England and Wales in April 2013. The legislation introducing the bedroom tax in Northern Ireland is the Housing Benefit (Amendment No. 2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016. Introduction of the tax was delayed until 20th February, by the Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016.

Under this policy, working-age households in social housing who receive Housing Benefit are entitled to a defined number of bedrooms. One bedroom is allowed for:

  • A couple;
  • A person aged 16 and over;
  • 2 children of the same sex;
  • 2 children under the age of 10;
  • Any other child;
  • A carer providing overnight care to the claimant, or the claimant's partner.

Who is entitled to an extra bedroom?

Some households may be entitled to an extra bedroom, if:

  • They have fostered a child or have been approved as a foster carer in the last 12 months
  • 2 people in their home, who would otherwise be required to share a bedroom, cannot share because of a serious disability
  • Someone in the household is currently serving as a member of the armed forces, but would otherwise be living in the home

Sometimes parents will share care of a child. However, under Housing Benefit rules, this child can only belong to one household; only the parent who gets Child Benefit will be entitled to a room for this child.

When is Housing Benefit reduced?

If a household is seen to have a “spare bedroom” or bedrooms, under the bedroom tax policy, their Housing Benefit will be reduced. If there is one spare bedroom, the household’s eligible rent is reduced by 14%; if there are 2 or more spare bedrooms, the eligible rent is reduced by 25%.

What impact will the bedroom tax have in Northern Ireland?

The impact of the policy in Northern Ireland will vary continuously, as the circumstances of social households change continuously. A recent screening report by the Department for Communities found that around 34,000 households would be affected by the policy, with average losses reaching up to £20 per week.

How do the mitigations work?

The mitigations are contained within the Housing Benefit (Welfare Supplementary Payment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017.

  • Any claimant who is affected by the bedroom tax will get a supplementary payment, which is equal to their loss of Housing Benefit. This supplementary payment will be made 4-weekly in arrears, or “as soon as reasonably practicable after that.” Payments are made either to the landlord, or the tenant – depending on whoever is receiving the original Housing Benefit.
  • In certain circumstances, affected claimants could lose their supplementary payments. If a claimant moves from a house with “spare bedroom(s)”, to another social house with the same number, or more, spare bedroom(s), they will lose their supplementary payment. So for example, an adult couple are living in a 2-bed social house and are receiving a supplementary payment. If this couple move to another 2-bed social house, they will lose their supplementary payment. There is an important exception to this rule. Where an affected household moves house under “Management Transfer”, they will not lose their supplementary payment.
  • Regulation 7 empowers the Department for Communities, registered housing associations and the Housing Executive to share information relating to the mitigations: for example, information about Housing Benefit payments, potential overpayments, and Management Transfer status.
  • The Department may recover any overpayments of supplementary payments. The Department can do this first by reducing any other supplementary payments a claimant may be getting; then by deductions from benefits; then by earnings deductions; and as a last resort, through Court action. Importantly, in a departure from normal practice, the Department is not legally required to recover overpayments. Under Section 15, the Department must establish procedures for reviewing a claimant’s entitlement to a supplementary payment, and decisions to recover overpayments of these.

Housing Rights calls for additional safeguards

Our Policy & Practice Manager Kate McCauley has welcomed the passing of these mitigations and called for additional safeguards to ensure the intent of the mitigations is fully realised.

Advice on bedroom tax

If you or your clients are affected by the bedroom tax, or just want to find out more about it, you can contact our advice line on 028 9024 5640 (select option 3), or visit our online advice site, housingadviceNI.org.

Welfare Reform Training

We have upcoming training Welfare Reform: implications on the home in Derry/Londonderry on 24 January and Belfast 27 February.

Tagged In

Benefits, Social Tenancies, Welfare Reform, Affordability


Stephen Orme

This article was written on 20 January 2017. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.