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Housing Benefit size restrictions in social housing: what you can do

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.

From 20 February 2017 if you live in a Housing Executive or housing association home and claim Housing Benefit to help you pay your rent, your Housing Benefit may be restricted if you're of working age and your home is considered too large for you. This is also known as the ‘social sector size criteria’ or the 'bedroom tax' '. Your Housing Benefit could be restricted at any time for this reason if you make a new claim or if there is a change in the number of people in your household which means that your home is now considered too big for you.

If your Housing Benefit is cut, you will receive a Supplementary Payment from the Department for Communities to make up any loss of Housing Benefit. You do not have to apply for it. It will be paid automatically.

When might you be affected

If you rent your home from a social housing landlord such as the Housing Executive 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 - for example, if your children have grown up and left home and you now have a spare bedroom.

What can you do if your Housing Benefit is cut?

If your Housing Benefit is cut because your home is considered too large for you, you will probably have a shortfall between your rent and the amount of Housing Benefit you get. Until 31 March 2020 the shortfall will be made up by Supplementary Payments from the Department of Communities, but after then you may be responsible for making up this shortfall. Here are some options you might want to consider for the longer term:

  • move to a smaller home in the social housing or private rented sector. You should discuss this option with your landlord. Your social housing landlord may be able to help you swap your home for another Housing Executive or a housing association place, or give you priority for re-housing on its waiting list or through their bidding system. If you move to a smaller home with fewer bedrooms, but still have an extra room, you will continue to get a Supplementary Payment.
  • take in a boarder or lodger to live in your spare room. This would mean the room no longer counts as being spare for Housing Benefit purposes. You will need to ask your landlord for permission to do this, but landlords are expected to agree in most cases. Remember that income from a lodger may affect your benefits
  • try asking your landlord to reclassify a spare room as a non-specific room, if you think it's particularly unsuitable to be a bedroom. For example, they might agree to this if the room is very small or has to be used as a passage way to get to another room. This would mean it no longer counts as a spare bedroom for Housing Benefit purposes. Even if the landlord does not agree to reclassify a room, you could still try appealing against the Housing Executive's Housing Benefit decision on the grounds that the number of bedrooms is not as described by the landlord
  • check if any special circumstances apply to you which mean that you would be allowed an extra bedroom.

If your Housing Benefit has been cut when it should not have been, you can ask the Housing Executive to look at their decision again. This could be, for example, if they used the wrong information about your household when working out how many bedrooms you can have before your Housing Benefit is cut.

Has there been a change in your circumstances?

It's especially important to make sure you tell the Housing Executive if there has been any changes in your household such as a new baby or a relative moving in with you. You should also tell them about things like you or your partner no longer being of working age, or your child reaching an age at which they wouldn't be expected to share a bedroom any more. This could mean you're allowed more bedrooms and your Housing Benefit won't be cut. However, other things will also be taken into account, for example, income of people who have moved in with you.

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