Housing Benefit changes for council tenants

Please get in touch with our financial inclusion team, if you or anyone you know is affected by any aspect of welfare reform.

What's changed?

Housing Benefit changed for tenants aged under 61 from April 2013.

The government introduced a 'size criteria' which limits how many bedrooms your family will receive benefit for. If you have more bedrooms than the government say you need, your benefit will be reduced. The amount of the reduction will depend on how many extra bedrooms you have. You will have a 14% reduction in your benefit if you have one spare bedroom and a 25% reduction if you have two or more spare bedrooms.

There is an example below to help you work out how you will be affected.

Been claiming housing benefit at the same address since 1996?

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has recently announced that a small number of tenants should not have been affected by the housing benefit spare room changes when it was introduced. All tenants affected will have the housing benefit reduction refunded and paid into your rent account.

You may be eligible for the refund if you:

  • lived at the same address between 1 January 1996 and 1 April 2013, and
  • were continuously entitled to housing benefit at that address

However, the government is acting now to change the law so that the spare bedroom reduction will apply to these same tenants in the near future. Following these legislation changes, those tenants will have their housing benefit reduced again if they still have one or more spare bedrooms.

We are writing to tenants who may be affected, but please email housing.benefits@brighton-hove.gov.uk or call (01273) 292000 if you think you may be eligible – particularly if you moved after 1 April 2013 or succeeded to your tenancy after January 1996 as it might be more difficult for us to identify who you are.

How many bedrooms am I entitled to?

The rules allow one bedroom for:

  • every adult couple (same or opposite sex, married or unmarried) 
  • any other adult aged 16 or over (including live-in carers) 
  • any two children of the same sex aged under 16 
  • any two children under age 10 
  • any other child (other than a foster child or child whose main home is elsewhere) 
  • children who cannot share because of a disability or medical condition 
  • a carer (or team of carers) providing occasional overnight care 

One spare bedroom is allowed for:

  • an approved foster carer with a current placement 
  • an approved foster carer who is between placements, but only for up to 52 weeks from the end of the last placement 
  • a newly approved foster carer for up to 52 weeks from the date of approval if no child is placed with them during that time

Rooms used by students and members of the armed or reserve forces will not be counted as ‘spare’ if they’re away and intend to return home. You may be entitled to additional bedrooms if you have recently suffered a bereavement in the household.

Example case

A couple live in a two bedroom flat. Their rent is £86 per week. As a couple they are expected to share a bedroom. Under the new rules they have one extra bedroom, so their eligible rent is reduced by 14%, ie £12.04. This means the maximum that they can receive under the new Housing Benefit rules is £73.96 per week (ie £86 less £12.04). They would have to pay at least £12.04 per week.

Are you affected by the changes?

The council has contacted all our tenants who we believe are affected by the change. Our Housing Benefit team have written to everyone affected, and we have been visiting tenants to make sure that we have the correct information about who is currently living in your home and the ages of everyone who lives with you. If you want to contact us and tell us about who currently lives with you, you can contact housing or benefit services and we will share information with each other so you only have to tell us once.

A policy amendment on under-occupation was made at the Housing Committee on 8 May 2013 to support and protect tenants affected by the changes as far as possible. However, it is important for the council to continue to collect all the rent due. ​

What can you do if you are affected by the changes?

There are a number of things you can do, but everyone's circumstances will be slightly different.  

Rent out a spare room or take in a lodger

You must get permission first from the housing department and can only do this if you are a secure tenant. Before you do take in a lodger or sub-tenant, check to see if you will be better off as the rules are quite complicated and it can affect your other benefits or your Single Person Discount for council tax.

If you are thinking of taking in a lodger please view or download our 'Thinking of taking in a lodger?' information sheet (PDF 87kb)There's also more information about this on page 9 of our tenant handbook.

Please note that taking in a lodger needs to be very carefully considered especially if the person is not known to you because they will obviously be sharing your home. Households with children will need to think even more carefully about this because lodgers will inevitably be in close contact with them.

Staying put and paying the extra rent

If you don't want to move or take in a lodger, you need to work out if you can afford to pay the extra rent.

  • Do you have an extra bedroom or bedrooms?
  • How much is your weekly rent?
  • Reduce your net rent, ie your rent less any service charges, by 14% if you have one spare bedroom or 25% if you have two or more spare bedrooms. This is the minimum you will have to pay.

There are different ways to pay but make sure you contact us if you get behind with your payments as your home could be at risk if you get into arrears. You can contact our financial inclusion team for help with money matters or you might want some independent advice if you get into debt and need help to manage your finances.

Download a copy of our 'Paying Your Rent' leaflet (PDF 1.06mb).

Make sure you are getting all the benefits you should be.

Check that you are getting the best deal on your utility bills, broadband supplier by visiting www.uswitch.com or other comparison websites.

You might be able to apply for a Discretionary Payment (DP) but these are only given in exceptional circumstances as there is a limited fund available.

You could also see if you can apply to a charity for extra help.

Council Tax benefit changes

In April 2013, the government abolished the national Council Tax Benefit system and councils introduced local Council Tax support schemes to replace it. The government also reduced the grant for Council Tax Benefit by 10%, meaning a shortfall of at least £2.5 million to help low income households in Brighton & Hove. 

Brighton & Hove's replacement is the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which came in on 1 April 2013. Although the council is funding the shortfall by £1 million, most working-age households now need to pay something towards their Council Tax. ​Find out more about the Brighton & Hove Council Tax Reduction Scheme.

How to contact us

Changes to other benefits

As part of the Welfare Reform Act, the government are also changing other benefits, such as Disability Living Allowance. For information on all the changes, go to our benefit changes pages. Our Welfare Rights team also produce some benefit factsheets explaining these changes in more detail.