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Welfare reform

Updated: 31 Jul 2014
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Make sure you are aware of the proposed changes and how they may affect you.
Get advice before you get into rent arrears
We want to make sure that you are aware of some proposed changes to the housing benefit scheme which might affect you and your family later this year.
PLEASE NOTE, the proposed changes will not affect cases where the tenant or their partner (if any) are born before 6th October 1951. Tenants who do not receive Housing Benefit will also not be affected.
The changes are in proposed new legislation that will soon be discussed in the Northern Ireland Assembly (similar legislation has already been passed in Great Britain). At the moment, if Housing Executive or housing association tenants claim Housing Benefit there is no restriction on the amount of benefit they are entitled to in relation to the size of their home. If the new legislation goes ahead, this would change later this year

Who will be affected?

If the proposals go ahead, a size criteria would be introduced for new and existing working-age Housing Benefit claimants - living in a Housing Executive or housing association home. You are considered to be of working age if both you and your partner (if any) were born after the 5th of October 1951.
The restrictions would apply to all Housing Benefit  working age claimants where they (and any family) are under-occupying their home.  Similar restrictions have applied to claims in the private-rented sector for some years now.
In summary, the new system would allow one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household, with the following exceptions:
  • A child under the age of 16 would be expected to share with one other child of the same gender;
  • A child under 10 years would be expected to share with one other child under 10, regardless of gender;
  • A bedroom for a non-resident carer will be allowed in the calculation of necessary bedrooms where that carer provides necessary overnight care for the claimant or their partner.
There are proposed exemptions for foster carers and the armed forces.

What difference would tenants see in their Housing Benefit?

Tenants would see their Housing Benefit payment reduced by 14% of their rent for under-occupation by one bedroom and by 25% for under-occupation by two or more bedrooms. Based on the current average rent of £58.76, a tenant who receives full housing benefit but who is under-occupying by one bedroom would see their Housing Benefit reduced by about £8.25 a week. A tenant who is under-occupying by two or more bedrooms would see a reduction of about £14.70 per week. If your Housing Benefit is cut you will have to pay your landlord the difference between your Housing Benefit and your rent.

Examples of how families might be affected

Example 1

Mr and Mrs Smith and their two children, a boy aged 8 and a 6 year old girl, live in a Housing Executive three bedroom house costing £59.65 per week in rent. At the moment Housing Benefit covers the full cost of their rent. Under the new rules they will be deemed to be under-occupied by one bedroom. Their Housing Benefit will be reduced by 14% of their rent [14% of £59.65 = £8.35]. So the amount of Housing Benefit they receive will be reduced by £8.35 to £51.30 per week. Therefore they will have to pay £8.35 per week towards their rent.

Example 2

Mr and Mrs Bell live in a three bedroom Housing Executive house with their two teenage boys, aged 13 and 15. Their rent is £66.28 per week and they receive £7 per week in Housing Benefit. Under the new rules their children will be expected to share a bedroom and so they will be deemed to be under-occupying by one bedroom. Their Housing Benefit will be reduced by 14% of £66.28 (£9.28) and so they will lose their Housing Benefit award.

Example 3

Mr and Mrs Brown, a couple in their fifties whose children have grown up and left home, live in a housing association three bedroom house costing £72.91 per week in rent. At the moment Housing Benefit covers the full cost of their rent. Under the new rules they will be deemed to be under-occupied by two bedrooms. Their Housing Benefit will be reduced by 25% of their rent [25% of £72.91 = £18.23] to £54.68 per week. Therefore they will have to pay £18.23 per week towards their rent.

How would the Housing Executive help tenants affected by the change?

We are looking at a number of ways to help tenants who will be affected by these changes, for example:
  • Providing extra financial assistance through the Discretionary Housing Payment scheme. While Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) will be available to help in the short term, particularly for very vulnerable tenants, the budget for this is limited.
  • Some additional funding has been made available for disabled people living in accommodation that has been substantially adapted for their needs (including new builds) and for foster carers (including those between foster placements).
  • Helping tenants to transfer to a smaller home through a transfer or a direct exchange. Don't forget, downsizing could also have the advantage of reducing heating and utility bills.
  • Providing smaller homes to allow tenants to ‘downsize’ (for example by converting existing properties into shared accommodation or one-bedroom self-contained homes, or by encouraging housing associations to acquire or build smaller sized homes).

Further advice and information

If the proposed changes go ahead we will write to any Housing Benefit claimants we have identified as being affected, advising them of how their benefit will be affected and what help might be available.
We are working with our tenant representatives and housing associations on the changes being introduced. Our tenants can get more information from their local District Office or Housing Benefit Unit.