Friday, 6 September 2013

Bedroom Tax Policy Adopted By South Cambridgeshire District Council by Cllr Tumi Hawkins

From April 2013 Welfare Reform changes have taken place which means Housing Benefit is potentially reduced for households deemed to be under-occupying a property. This is the so-called “bedroom tax” that has been much talked about.

There is no definition of a minimum bedroom size set out in legislation. The Department of Work and Pensions HB/CTB Circular A4/2012 – Adjudication and Operations circular states:- ‘We will not be defining what we mean by a bedroom and in legislation there is no definition of a minimum bedroom size set out in regulations. It will be up to the landlord to accurately describe the property in line with the actual rent charged.’

What is the Bedroom Tax?

This is the amount of money that the occupier of a property needs to pay back to the Local Authority if they have one or more spare bedrooms in the social housing property that they are renting. To the government, having a spare bedroom means that the tenant is “under occupying” the property, making it unavailable for families that may need a bigger house.

The reduction in benefit is therefore seen as a tax on the tenant, as the tenant has to pay the local authority some money, albeit deducted from the housing benefit entitlement.

How is the Bedroom Tax calculated?

The reduction will be a fixed percentage of the housing benefit eligible rent for the property. The Government has set this at 14% for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms.

Any shortfall in rent following a reduction in housing benefit will need to be paid by the tenant to the Council. If a tenant falls into arrears because of non payment of the shortfall, then the normal procedure for collection of rent arrears will be followed, including legal action where no attempt is made to clear the arrears.

How can tenant avoid paying Bedroom Tax

It has been reported in the popular press that some local authorities are helping tenants by reclassifying bedrooms or installing bathrooms in them. South Cambridgeshire District Council has decided not to go down that route, but instead stay with the government guidelines.

So, what help is being offered to tenants who find themselves in this position? These include:
  • downsizing: moving to a smaller property. This is only viable if there is a property to move to, but South Cambs is short on properties.
  • taking a lodger: this would need to be declared to and agreed with the authority who may require that proper checks are carried out on the sub tenant.
  • approved lodger scheme with King Street Housing Society: an approved scheme where the work of finding a suitable lodger is taken on by the housing society.
  • financial/benefits advice: this will include signposting claimants to other funding sources or giving advice on how to manage their finances more efficiently.
  • help with finding work: as it says on the tin. assistance will be provided to help find suitable work.
Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) – may be made available in special circumstances.

Any benefit claimant in South Cambridgeshire District finding themselves in an under-occupation scenario can find more detailed information on the council website at:

http://scambs.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s71530/Appendix%20A%20-%20Under-occupation%20policy.pdf

http://www.scambs.gov.uk/content/under-occupation-faqs