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Housing Benefit: under-occupation in the private rented sector

Published Monday, December 23, 2013

This note explains issues around the application of the size criteria to people under-occupying their homes in the private rented sector and who are in receipt of Housing Benefit.

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Restrictions on entitlement to Housing Benefit based on the size of the accommodation occupied have applied to claimants living in privately rented housing since 1989 (Schedule 3 to the Rent Officers (Additional Function) Order 1989. The then Conservative Government introduced these restrictions alongside the deregulation of private sector rents in recognition of the upward pressure that this policy could have on Housing Benefit expenditure.

With effect from 7 April 2008 the Labour Government changed the way in which the rent element of Housing Benefit is calculated for tenants living in the private rented sector – other aspects of the Housing Benefit eligibility assessment process, including the size criteria, remained in place.

Size criteria in the private rented sector applied to only to new Housing Benefit claimants in 1989 and to new Local Housing Allowance claimants after 7 April 2008 – implementation was not retrospective.

This note explains how the application of size criteria operates in regard to Housing Benefit for private rented accommodation and provides information on discretionary housing payments. The application of the size criteria has particular implications for disabled people who require an additional bedroom in order to accommodate a carer, or where two people cannot share a room for a reason related to a disability.

The extension of the size criteria to apply to Housing Benefit claimants living in social rented housing from 1 April 2013 has proved highly controversial (see Library note SN/SP/6272) and has focused attention on the position of severely disabled children and adults who are unable to share a bedroom, foster carers and the families of armed forces personnel. As a result, changes have been made to the size criteria for certain groups which also apply to private tenants. Several legal challenges to the application of the size criteria in the social rented and private rented sector have been successful.

Commons Briefing papers SN04887

Authors: Robert Long; Wendy Wilson

Topics: Disability discrimination, Housing, Housing benefits, Private rented housing

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