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When everyone has a home

Housing and debt helpline for Northern Ireland – 028 9024 5640

Transferring accommodation and the Social Sector Size Criteria

Housing Rights recently assisted a couple who were transferring between social tenancies and stood to be negatively impacted by the Social Sector Size Criteria. Housing Rights helped to ensure that the couple made their move without experiencing financial loss. 

Tenancy Transfer and when the Social Sector Size Criteria may apply

The couple had resided in a two bedroom social sector accommodation for a number of years. Although the property met the physical requirements of the couple, they had been experiencing long standing neighbourhood issues in respect of antisocial behaviour. They had been on the transfer waiting list for a number of years.

Finally they were offered, and accepted, a tenancy for another two bedroomed property.

Tenancy commenced on 20th February 2017

As the couple were of working age and had been in receipt of full housing benefit, they had anticipated that such payments would continue. However the couple’s tenancy commenced on 20th February 2017 -  the same date the legislation for Social Sector Size Criteria, sometimes known as Bedroom Tax, took effect in Northern Ireland.

Since 20th February 2017, working-age social sector tenants who are seen to have more rooms in their property than they require are subject to a reduction in their eligible rent, which subsequently reduces amount of Housing Benefit they will receive.

Welfare Supplementary Payments

Although the Northern Ireland Assembly has agreed a system of mitigations to ensure households in Northern Ireland are protected from this reduction in Housing Benefit, this payment may cease if the claimant moves to another social tenancy and, following the transfer, continues to over occupy the property by the same number or by more bedrooms.

Tenants who have been awarded Management Transfer status (only given to people who meet certain criteria) by their housing provider will be able to transfer without losing their Welfare Supplementary Payments. However Management Transfer status is not automatic in every instance of transfer being sought.

Impact on clients following transfer

The couple's housing provider had failed in this instance to advise them adequately of the potential impact of Social Sector Size Criteria following their transfer. This was likely due to the fact that these clients' transfer date coincided with the first day of Social Sector Size Criteria legislation being in operation. The couple became subject to the bedroom tax on 20th February in their original tenancy, and then transferred to another tenancy of the same size on the same day. As this transfer completed without the couple being awarded management transfer status, their entitlement to a welfare supplementary payment was lost. The couple's Housing Benefit payments were reduced and they had no entitlement to a supplementary payment. 

Client’s accommodation needs

As arrears began to accrue on their rent, the clients sought advice from Housing Rights. During the course of obtaining assistance the Housing Rights adviser discovered they both suffered from significant ill-health. The husband was in receipt of Employment Support Allowance and Disability Living Allowance, while his wife was in receipt of Carers Allowance. The household health issues included serious heart complaints, diabetes and mental health problems. As a result of these problems the couple could not share a room.

Housing Rights felt that the best way to assist this couple would be to rely on a Supreme Court judgment which supported the argument that this couple should not be regarded as having a spare room, rather than arguing about their entitlement to continue receiving a welfare supplementary payment. This approach would protect the couple's interests in the long-term, as supplementary payments are only guaranteed until 2020 and arguing this point would only delay the larger argument.  In 2016 the Supreme Court held that there was no reason for authorities to distinguish between adult partners who cannot share a bedroom because of a disability and children,  and held that an additional bedroom should also be allowed in circumstances where an adult couple cannot share a room due to disability needs. Housing Benefit Regulations were subsequently enacted on 20th April 2017 to implement this ruling.

After representations from Housing Rights, the Housing Exeuctive agreed that the couple was unable to share a bedroom and should not, therefore, be subject to the social sector size criteria. The payment of full housing benefit was recommenced.

First payment of Welfare Supplementary Payment

Had the Housing Executive not accepted this position, it would also have been possible to argue that the claimants should receive a mitigation payment by relying on the fact that their old tenancy must be taken to have ended on the 19th February, and that the new tenancy should be regarded as the first occasion on which the couple became entitled to receive a supplementary payment. Therefore, the move to a new tenancy actually ocurred before any entitlement to receive a supplementary payment under the regulations had arisen. 

Caution when transferring

Any social tenant who is considering transferring or exchanging to another property and who is not downsizing needs to be aware of the risk of losing the supplementary payment which offsets the bedroom tax subsequent to that move. The only protection from this loss is where the tenant transfers and has management transfer status. 

Housing Rights training

If your organisation needs training to increase your knowledge of the impact of welfare reform on housing, contact us to discuss this further. We can deliver any of our courses to your staff or we can tailor a course to suit your particular needs.

Tagged In

Social Tenancies, Practical tips, Welfare Reform

Author

Christopher McGrath