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

This advice applies to Scotland

If you live in a council 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 'bedroom tax' or the 'under occupancy charge'. Cuts started to be made in April 2013 and your Housing Benefit may have been cut then. However, 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.

Top tips

If you are considering downsizing, you may want to swap with another social housing tenant. You can join a mutual exchange scheme which can help you find a place to move to.

Your landlord may run their own scheme or you may need to register with one the home swapping websites for social housing tenants.

Find out more about transfers and exchanges in Scotland on the Shelter Scotland website at scotland.shelter.org.uk.

When might you be affected

If you rent your home from a social housing landlord such as 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 - 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. You will be responsible for making up this shortfall. If you can't make up the shortfall, you could end up losing your home. Here are some options you might want to consider:

  • apply to the local authority for a Discretionary Housing Payment. The Scottish Government makes funds available to councils for Discretionary Housing Payments to help tenants affected by the cuts
  • make up the shortfall from your other benefits or savings, if you have any
  • try to increase your income from paid work, for example by getting extra hours
  • make sure you're getting all the benefits you can, for example money to help you with the costs of a disability
  • ask family members who live with you to contribute more
  • 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 council or a housing association place, or give you priority for re-housing on its waiting list or through their bidding system. They may also offer you a sum of money or other help to encourage you to downsize
  • 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 council'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 Benefit department 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 your council's Housing Benefit department 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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