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Under-occupying social housing: Housing Benefit entitlement

Published Friday, November 1, 2019

This Briefing Paper provides information on which claimants are affected by the reduction in Housing Benefit/housing element of Universal Credit when under-occupying a social rented home. The policy is often referred to as 'the removal of the Spare Room Subsidy' or the 'bedroom tax'. The benefit reduction has been in place since 1 April 2013. The paper has been updated to include some of the more recent legal challenges to the under-occupation deduction.

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Social landlords have long had an interest in tackling under-occupation in order to achieve the best use of their housing stock. Landlords have developed incentive schemes to encourage tenants to relocate to smaller properties; however, as a general rule, they do not have the power to force social tenants to move against their will.

The 2010 Coalition Government used powers contained in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 to provide that, since 1 April 2013, working age social tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit experience a reduction in their benefit entitlement if they live in housing that is deemed to be too large for their needs. 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 policy is highly controversial. Amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill were secured during its passage through the House of Lords but did not survive into the final Act. The most recent cases have been considered by the European Court of Human Rights. Challenges have concerned whether disabled children and adult couples should be required to share a bedroom and the question of whether very small rooms and ‘panic’ rooms should be treated as bedrooms.

Separate Library papers (06896 and 06899 respectively) consider evidence on the impact of the under-occupation deduction and the use of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) as mitigation. There is also a note providing details of how the Parties voted on the measure in Parliament: Votes in Parliament on the under-occupation deduction from Housing Benefit.


The rules on Housing Benefit have traditionally applied in England, Wales and Scotland. However, Scotland gained powers to vary some aspects of social security measures under the Scotland Act 2016.  The Scottish Government has said it will use these powers to abolish the ‘bedroom tax’ for Universal Credit claimants. In the meantime, the Scottish Government has used Discretionary Housing Payments to fully mitigate the impact of the measure.

Northern Ireland

The Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Bill 2012 failed to make progress. This prompted the UK Government to introduce the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Act 2015 to provide for the implementation of welfare reform measures in Northern Ireland. The under-occupation measure came into force in Northern Ireland on
20 February 2017. The Department for Communities (DfC) is mitigating the impact of the deduction for social housing tenants up to March 2020. A Joint Report of the Work and Pensions and Northern Ireland Affairs Committees, Welfare Reform in Northern Ireland (September 2019), called for legislation to extend the mitigation package beyond 31 March 2020 to avoid a drop in income affecting an estimated 35,000 households.









Commons Briefing papers SN06272

Author: Wendy Wilson

Topics: Housing, Housing benefits, Social rented housing, Working age benefits

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