Legal Eagle: Bedroom Tax reduces benefits

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I have a part time job and recently applied for Housing Benefit. I have been told that my Housing Benefit will be reduced because I have a spare bedroom. Is this correct? If so, is any help available to cover the shortfall?

If you live in a council or housing association property and are classed as having a spare room then you will be subject to a reduction in Housing Benefit. This is known as the “Bedroom Tax” or “Spare Room Subsidy”.

The Bedroom Tax applies to tenants who have more bedrooms than the rules allow and are also of working age. The Bedroom Tax will not apply for the first 13 weeks of your claim if you haven’t claimed within the last 52 weeks.

There are in depth rules about what qualifies as a spare room and exceptions to the Bedroom Tax. If you are uncertain about a benefit decision you should seek advice from a benefits advisor.

The amount your Housing Benefit will be reduced by depends on the number of spare bedrooms you have. There will be a 14% reduction if you have one spare room and a 25% reduction if you have two spare bedrooms.

You may however be able to get Discretionary Housing Payments from the local authority to assist you with the shortfall between your rent and Housing Benefit.

Discretionary Housing Payments can be paid to Housing Benefit claimants if the local authority believes the claimant needs extra help to pay their rent. Applications are commonly made by those subject to the Bedroom Tax.

You can claim a Discretionary Housing Payment by asking at your local council office for a form. You will need to fill in details of all your income and outgoings to show that you cannot afford your rent payments and you will need to give details of whether there are any special circumstances that led to or worsened your financial difficulties.

The local authority will look at your income and whether you can get any assistance from elsewhere, perhaps another household member. They will consider any health problems you have and what steps you have taken to try to sort out your finances.

If you are awarded Discretionary Housing Payments it is usually paid along with your Housing Benefit. It is time limited, for example for 6 or 12 months.

If you are turned down for Discretionary Housing Payments, or are not satisfied with the amount awarded, you can ask the local authority to review their decision. If you are struggling with your rent payments, it is a good idea to take advice.

l Ben Hoare Bell LLP has specialist Housing Solicitors who can advise you on issues such as this. To speak to a Solicitor please phone 0191 565 3112 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk. Visit www.benhoarebell.co.uk for further information.