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Occupancy rules

From 1 April 2013, occupancy rules will be introduced that could affect how much Housing Benefit you receive.

What are the occupancy rules?

The occupancy rules set out what size of property each household needs, as defined by the DWP, based on the number of people living in the house, your age and your gender. If your property is identified as being bigger than the rules say it needs to be, the property is classed as ‘under-occupied’ and your Housing Benefit will be reduced by up to a quarter.

Who will be affected?

Any Council or social housing tenants of working age who receive Housing Benefit. The rules don’t apply to those who rent from a private landlord because similar rules have applied to private sector rents for a while.

What size of house do the rules allow?

Households are allowed one bedroom each for:

  • a couple;
  • a person over 16 years;
  • two children of the same sex under 16 years;
  • two children under 10 years of either sex;
  • any other child (other than a foster child or child whose main home is somewhere else);
  • a carer providing overnight care.

There may be some exceptions to this – for example, if you are a foster carer, or have any adult children in the armed forces who normally live at home, or if there is a disabled child in the household. If you fall into these categories, contact Benefit Services immediately by calling 0300 123 0900 or email: benefit.services@south-ayrshire.gov.uk.

However generally, if you have more rooms than the rules say you need, you will be classed as ‘under-occupying’ your property and your Housing Benefit will be reduced.

The room allowance per property is based on permanent members of the household. So, for families who are separated, only one parent will qualify for the room allowance for your child/children – this will be the parent who receives child benefit/tax credits.

By how much will Housing Benefit be reduced?

If your household is identified as being under-occupied by one bedroom, you will see your Housing Benefit reduced by 14% of the total eligible rent for the property – an average of £10.30 per week. You will need to make up the difference from other benefits or income.

If your household is identified as being under-occupied by two or more bedrooms, you will see your Housing Benefit reduced by 25% of the total eligible rent for the property – an average of £18.40 per week. You will need to make up the difference from other benefits or income.

For example:

  • A couple renting a three-bedroom property will be allowed only one bedroom under the occupancy rules, so you will be classed as under-occupying your home by two bedrooms and Housing Benefit will be reduced by 25%.
  • A single parent with two daughters aged 15 years renting a three bedroom house will be classed as under-occupying by 1 bedroom and Housing Benefit will be reduced by 14%.
  • A couple with two sons aged six years and a daughter aged 11 years renting a four bedroom property will be classed as under-occupying by 1 bedroom and Housing Benefit will be reduced by 14%.

In all three examples, the tenant would be expected to make up the difference from other benefits or earnings you receive.

What options are there if I’m classed as under-occupying my property?

There are only a small number of options available if you are classed as under-occupying your home:

  • Pay the difference in benefit to make up the rent and stay in the tenancy.
  • Move to a smaller rented property that meets the occupancy rules*. This could include an option for a mutual exchange where, as well as applying to transfer to another South Ayrshire Council property, you can apply for a mutual exchange with tenants of other Councils in the UK or tenants of housing associations or other registered social landlords within the UK.
  • Think about taking in a lodger, which may be an option. However, you must seek advice from the Council or housing association you rent your property from to get permission. Please be aware that – if this is allowed and you take in a lodger to be part of your household – it may affect the amount of Housing Benefit you receive. If in doubt, seek advice first.

*Most Council and social rented homes in South Ayrshire have two or more bedrooms, so in most cases it won’t be possible to re-house you to a smaller property that meets the occupancy rules.

What should I do if I’m concerned about this?

Make sure we have the most up-to-date information about your household so we can make sure your Housing Benefit entitlement is correct. To discuss your housing options, you can visit our customer service centres (or the Housing Office in Ayr) and speak to a member of staff from the housing team.

You should also seek advice to ensure you are getting all the benefits you are entitled to – you can contact the Council’s Money Advice Team on 0300 123 0900.

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Last updated: 25 February 2016

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