Under occupation

Housing benefit size criteria restrictions

When will the change happen?

This change will come into force for all existing and new claimants to housing benefit from 1 April 2013. If you are thinking of moving you need to consider these changes before you renew or make a new tenancy agreement.

There are no exceptions apart from those listed below.

Who will the change affect?

Council and housing association tenants of working age.

What is the change?

If you rent your home from the council or a housing association and you are of working age your housing benefit may be cut. This could happen if your home is considered too large for you. The new size limit means that there is a limit on the number of bedrooms council or housing association tenants can receive housing benefit for based on the make up of your household. For example, if your children have grown up and left home and you now have what the new rule says is a spare bedroom, you will not receive housing benefit to cover the spare bedroom.

How could you be affected?

The new rules allow one bedroom for:

  • every adult couple (married or unmarried)
  • any other adult aged 16 or over
  • any two children of the same sex aged under 16
  • any two children aged under 10
  • any additional child (including a foster child, other than a child whose main home is elsewhere)
  • a carer (or team of carers) who do not live with you but provide you or your partner with overnight care

If you are under occupying there will be a reduction in your housing benefit.

Rates of reduction

Those that are considered to be under occupying their accommodation will see a reduction in their housing benefit calculated by a reduction of:

  • 14% of the total eligible rent for under occupation by one bedroom
  • 25% of the total eligible rent for under occupation by two bedrooms or more


Below are two examples to help you:

Example 1

Couple 1 has three children in a three bedroom property - one boy who is 12, two girls aged nine and six. Under the size criteria rules, they would be entitled to housing benefit for three bedroom accommodation: one bedroom for themselves, one for their son and one for their daughters. They would not see any reduction in their housing benefit.

Example 2

Couple 2 has two children - one aged 8 and one aged 6. They live in a three bedroom house and get £125 in housing benefit a week to cover their rent.

Under the new size limit rules, they would only be entitled to housing benefit for two bedroom accommodation: one bedroom for themselves and one for their children who are expected to share a room as they are both under 10. So from 1 April 2013, their entitlement to housing benefit would be £107.50.

When will the size criteria not apply? Is anyone exempt?

There are certain circumstances where the size limit rules will not be applied.

Shared ownership

The size criteria rules will not apply to shared ownership cases. This is where the claimant part owns the property under a shared ownership lease, usually with a housing association. The claimant may well have a mortgage on their share of the property while renting the rest.

Pension age

The size criteria rules will only apply to claimants of working age. Any claimant over the qualifying age for state pension credit or with a partner over that age will be exempt from the size criteria rules from April 2013.

Non-mainstream accommodation

These rent liabilities include mooring charges for house boats and site charges for caravans and mobile homes.

Temporary accommodation

Any claimant who is accepted as homeless under homelessness legislation of the Housing Act 1996 and placed in temporary accommodation by the local authority.

Supported ‘exempt’ accommodation

The size criteria rules will not be applied to those in supported ‘exempt’ accommodation. This is a particular type of supported accommodation. Supported accommodation such as a house or a flat where you get extra help from support workers, or sheltered accommodation for older people.

Sick or disabled

If you are sick or a disabled person of working age and you or your partner need a spare bedroom so that your carer can stay overnight, your housing benefit will not be cut.

Armed forces

Adult children who are in the *armed forces but who continue to live with parents, will be treated as continuing to live at home for the purposes of applying the size criteria, when deployed on operations.

However the adult son or daughter must have been a non dependant before deployment on operations, although a deduction may not have been applied, and there must be an intention to return to live with their parents

*Member of the Armed Services means a member of the Naval Service, British Army or Royal Air Force of the Crown or members of the Reserve Forces.

Joint tenants

Everyone sharing a property is counted even if they are joint tenants. If you are a joint tenant and your property is considered too big for you, your housing benefit will be cut.

In the case of joint tenants the eligible rent will be apportioned appropriately between the tenants after the percentage reduction has been applied.


Three adults jointly responsible for rent live in a four bedroom property

The total eligible rent = £300 per week

Applying the size criteria means that the household is deemed to be under occupying by one bedroom.

A 14% under-occupancy reduction is made from the weekly eligible rent of £300 (£300 - £42) and then the remaining figure of £258 is apportioned three ways resulting in housing benefit entitlement for each tenant of £86.00 per week.

Where children can not share a bedroom

The council will be expected to be provided with sufficient medical evidence to confirm that it is inappropriate for the children to share a bedroom on a continual basis. Only in such circumstances will we consider making an exception to the normal application of the size criteria and granting housing benefit on the basis of an additional bedroom.

Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP)

Payments to help you pay housing costs, such as your rent. The government gives us a sum of money for DHP to provide additional assistance and we cannot spend more than this.

What we mean by ‘housing costs’ is your rent. This does not include service charges, fuel charges such as gas and electricity, water rates or sewerage charges.

DHP is usually paid for a limited period of time depending on your circumstances.

You may be able to get a DHP to make up all or some of the reduction. Please contact the benefits service

Further information

For more information, the following may be able to assist:

  • Benefit service - we can help you to find out exactly how these changes will affect you
  • you can get more information on public service and up to date information on housing benefit changes in one place  
  • the Citizens Advice service provides a wide range of advice

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