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Housing Benefit size restrictions in social housing: special circumstances

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 claim Housing Benefit to help you pay your rent, your Housing Benefit may be reduced if your home is considered too large for you. This is known as the ‘social sector size criteria’ or 'bedroom tax'.

You may be affected if you're of working age, even if you are sick or disabled. However, check if there any special rules that might apply to 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?

The size limit rules apply to you if you rent your home from a social housing landlord (also known as a public sector landlord) such as the Housing Executive or a housing association and you are of working age. Your Housing Benefit will be reduced if you have more bedrooms than the rules allow. For example, this could happen if your children have grown up and left home and you now have a spare bedroom.

If you're disabled

You're allowed an extra bedroom if someone in your household is disabled and needs regular overnight care from a carer who doesn't live with you. This won't count as a spare bedroom. The person who's disabled needs to be either:

  • the person claiming
  • the partner of the person claiming
  • any other adult who lives with you and gets a disability benefit

The disabled person should also get at least 1 of these benefits:

  • Attendance Allowance
  • the middle or higher rate care component of Disability Living Allowance
  • the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment  
  • Armed Forces Independence Payment

You can only get one extra bedroom for carers, even if more that 1 person in your home needs overnight care. 

You can also get an extra bedroom if you're in a couple and one of you has a disability that means you can't share a bedroom. The disabled person will need to get at least 1 of these benefits:

  • the higher rate of Attendance Allowance

  • the middle or higher rate care component of Disability Living Allowance

  • the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment  

  • an Armed Forces Independence Payment

If you have a disabled child

You're allowed an extra bedroom if your child is disabled and can't share a bedroom with another child because of their disability. You're also allowed an extra bedroom if your child is disabled and needs regular overnight care from a carer who doesn't live with you. You must meet the following conditions:

  • your disabled child must be entitled to the middle or higher rate care component of Disability Living Allowance
  • the Housing Executive must be satisfied that your child's disability means they can't share a bedroom with another child

The organisation Contact a Family can provide a template letter for you to use to explain to the Housing Executive why your disabled child needs a separate bedroom. You can contact them on 0808 808 3555.

If your child lives with you only part of the week

If you share the care of your child with the child's other parent, your child will be treated as living with the parent who provides the child's main home. If your child spends equal amounts of time with both parents, they will be treated as living with the parent who claims Child Benefit for them. This may mean that you won't be allowed a bedroom for the child.

If you're a foster carer

If any of the following people is an approved foster carer, or in Scotland, an approved foster carer or a kinship carer, they will be allowed an extra bedroom. This won’t count as a spare bedroom. The people are:

  • the claimant
  • the claimant’s partner
  • someone else who is a joint tenant with the claimant or the claimant's partner
  • the partner of someone else who is a joint tenant with the claimant or the claimant's partner.

Only one additional bedroom is allowed for a claimant and a claimant's partner if they are both approved foster carers or kinship carers. Only one additional bedroom is allowed for a joint tenant and the joint tenant's partner if they are both approved foster carers or kinship carers.

These rules apply whether or not a child has been placed with the carer, as long as they have fostered a child or have become an approved carer in the last twelve months.

If your child is in the Armed Forces

If you have an adult son, daughter or step-child who is in the Armed Forces and who lives with you but who is serving away from home, they are treated as continuing to live at home.

As long as they intend to return home, the rules won't be applied to the bedroom that they normally occupy.

If your child is a student

If a student has a bedroom in your home but they’re away, their bedroom won’t count as unoccupied as long as they intend to return to live at home.

If you're a joint tenant

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 reduced.

For example, you're a joint Housing Executive tenant with your brother and you have a three bedroom property. Your brother's child used to live with you so you had one bedroom each. However, now that his child has left home, you will be treated as having a spare bedroom.

If somebody in your household dies

If somebody has recently died in your household, this could mean that your home would now be considered too big for you. However, if this happens, your Housing Benefit will not be reduced for a year after the death.

If you could previously afford your rent without claiming Housing Benefit

If you could previously afford your rent without claiming Housing Benefit, even though your home is considered too big for you, you will get a short period of grace if you now need help with your rent because of a change in your circumstances. The rules about size restriction won't apply to you for up to 13 weeks if:

  • you're making a new claim for Housing Benefit because of a change of circumstances, for example, if you've lost your job, and
  • you could afford your rent when you first took on your tenancy, and
  • you have not claimed Housing Benefit in the previous 12 months.

Do Housing Benefit size restrictions apply to all types of homes?

If you live in a certain type of social housing, you won't be affected by the rules about size restriction.

This will be the case if you live in:

  • temporary accommodation the Housing Executive has put you in because you were homeless
  • supported accommodation such as a house or a flat where you get extra help from support workers, or sheltered accommodation for older people
  • non-mainstream accommodation, for example houseboats, caravans or mobile homes

  • a shared co-ownership scheme.

Next steps

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