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Housing Benefit: under-occupation in the private rented sector

Published Friday, June 9, 2017

This Commons Library briefing paper explains the application of size criteria to people claiming Housing Benefit and under-occupying their homes in the private rented sector.

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Size criteria - introduced in 1989

Restrictions on entitlement to Housing Benefit based on the size of accommodation occupied have applied to claimants living in privately rented housing since 1989 under Schedule 3 to the Rent Officers (Additional Function) Order 1989.  The Conservative Government at that time introduced these restrictions alongside the deregulation of private sector rents in recognition of the upward pressure that this policy was likely to have on Housing Benefit expenditure.  Size criteria in the private rented sector applied only to new Housing Benefit claimants in 1989 – there was no retrospective application.

Local Housing Allowance 2008

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 size criteria, remained in place. The Labour Government renamed Housing Benefit for new private sector claimants after 7 April 2008 - it is now called the Local Housing Allowance (LHA). On introduction, the LHA was not retrospective, the changes it introduced only applied to new claimants after 7 April 2008.

Amendments to the size criteria

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. Several legal challenges to the application of the size criteria in the social rented and private rented sector have been successful. As a result, changes have been made to the size criteria for certain groups which also apply to private tenants.

Commons Briefing papers SN04887

Authors: Robert Long; Wendy Wilson

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

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