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Housing Benefit and Universal Credit size restrictions in social housing: Welfare Supplementary Payments

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

If you want to speak to someone about changes to benefits, you can phone the independent welfare changes helpline for free on 0808 802 0020 or contact your local Citizens Advice.

If you live in a Housing Executive or housing association home and you claim Housing Benefit or Universal Credit to help you pay your rent, your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit may be reduced if you’re of working age and your home is considered to have more bedrooms than you need. This is known as the ‘social sector size criteria’ (SSSC) or the ‘bedroom tax’.

You will receive a Welfare Supplementary Payment (WSP) to make up the reduction in Housing Benefit or Universal Credit.

If you're affected by the SSSC

If you have more bedrooms than the government says you need, the eligible rent used to calculate your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit will be reduced by:

  • 14% if you have one extra bedroom
  • 25% if you have two or more extra bedrooms

The Housing Executive will tell you how much your eligible rent is.

If you don't agree with their decision, you can challenge it.

Getting a Welfare Supplementary Payment 

If your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit is reduced because of the SSSC, you will get a WSP to make up the financial loss.

The Department for Communities (DfC) will write to you to let you know about your WSP. You do not need to apply for it.

It is paid in the same way as your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit:

  • if your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit housing element is paid directly to your landlord, the DfC will pay the WSP to your landlord four weekly in arrears
  • if your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit housing element is paid directly to you, the DfC will pay the WSP to you every two weeks in arrears

WSPs are available until 31 March 2020.

Change of circumstances

If there's a change in your circumstances, you must tell the Housing Executive, for example:

  • someone leaves or joins your household
  • you have a baby
  • you move house

Your WSP will increase or decrease as your circumstances change. For example, if you and your child live in a 3 bedroom property your Housing Benefit will be reduced for one extra bedroom and you will get a WSP to make up for the reduction. If your child moves out, you will now have two extra bedrooms so your Housing Benefit will go down and your WSP will go up.

You should also tell them if you have any special circumstances as you might be allowed an extra bedroom.

If you transfer your tenancy or swap your house with another Housing Executive or housing association tenant, you will lose your WSP unless:

  • the new house has fewer bedrooms than your last one, eg. you had two extra bedrooms and now you only have one extra, or
  • you move as a Management Transfer.

You do not need to report a change in your rent. The Housing Executive will tell the DfC so that the WSP changes to cover any increase in rent.

Once you or your partner reaches State Pension age, you will no longer be impacted by the SSSC. You don't need to tell the Housing Executive. Your Housing Benefit will no longer be reduced and as a result your WSP will stop.

The Housing Executive has more detailed information on changes of circumstances in their FAQs.

New claims for Housing Benefit or Universal Credit

If you make a fresh claim for Housing Benefit and are affected by the SSSC, your Housing Benefit notification letter will tell you how much Housing Benefit you will get once the Housing Executive has made the reduction for the SSSC. If you make a fresh claim for Universal Credit, you will be notified in your online journal of how much your housing element will be. 

Be sure to tell the Housing Executive if you have any special circumstances which mean that you need an extra room. You can record it on your Housing Benefit form at Part 10: anything else we need to know. If you are entitled to an extra room, the Housing Executive will send you a new Housing Benefit notification letter.

You'll get a separate letter from the DfC to tell you about your WSP. It'll be for the same amount as the reduction in your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit.

Overpayments

If the DfC has paid you or your landlord too much WSP, they may try to recover the overpayment directly from the landlord by making deductions from future payments, or, if you are no longer getting a WSP, from your benefits.

Review

If you don’t agree with the DfC’s decision on a WSP or on a decision to recover a payment, you can ask the DfC to review the decision.

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