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Welfare Benefit Changes: Implications for Housing Under Occupation

What is under occupation?
Under occupation is when households are living in property that is bigger than they need.  
Who decides what people need?  
The Government has introduced criteria for housing benefit claims in social housing.  This will apply from April 2013 to tenants of working age.  
Bedroom Standard:-
Single adults or a couple need a bedroom to themselves
A child aged 10 – 21 years should share a bedroom with another child of the same sex, including disabled children. This means that a boy aged 10 – 21 years old is expected to share with another boy aged 10 – 21 years old, and a girl aged 10 – 21 years old is expected to share with another girl aged 10 – 21 years old
A child under 10 years old should share with another child regardless of their sex, including disabled children. This means that a boy under the age of 10 is expected to share with a girl or a boy who is also under the age of 10, and a girl under the age of 10 is expected to share with a boy or girl who is also under the age of 10
A bedroom is allowed for a non resident carer who provides overnight care for a disabled person
You will not get Housing Benefit for a room used by:
Children who don’t live with a parent/guardian all the time, for example where there is access rights or grandchildren who stay at the property
Couples who use a spare room due to illness or an operation
Foster children
There will also be no allowance for disabled adaptations that have resulted in tenants being unable to use a room as a bedroom.  
Bedroom Standard
 
 
 
Number of bedrooms
 
Household Members
1
2
Single Adults over 21
Tick 1
 
Couple (married or cohabiting) wishing to live together
Tick 2
 
28+ weeks pregnant woman with or without partner and no other children
 
Tick 3
One child
Tick 4
 
2 children under 10 regardless of sex
Tick 5
 
2 children of the same sex aged between 10 and 21
Tick 6
 
2 children of the different sex aged between 10 and 21
 
Tick 7
How will tenants be affected by the change?
If tenant has any spare rooms they are likely to lose Housing Benefit from April 2013.  Here are some examples of people who will be affected:  
A single person or a couple living in a 2, 3 or 4 bed flat or house
A single person or a couple with one child, living in a 3 or 4 bedroom house
A single person or a couple with two children of the same sex under the age of 16, living in a 3 or 4 bedroom house
A single person or couple with 2 children under 10 of different sexes living in a 3 or 4 bedroom house
A couple who have weekend access to a child in a 2 bedroom house
A single disabled person living in an adapted 2, 3 or 4 bed flat or house
This change only applies to people who are of 'working age' which is anyone younger than the state retirement age for women.  This retirement age will increase between now and 2020 but in April 2013 it will be 61 years and 6 months.  Existing pensioners will not be affected and do not need to worry.  
How much Housing Benefit will householders lose?
There are two rates of reduction in benefit:
If tenants have one spare bedroom they will lose 14% of the total rent (approx £11)
If tenants have two or more spare bedrooms they will lose 25% of the total rent (approx £22.50)
The percentage reduction is calculated from the total rent for your home and not from your current Housing Benefit entitlement.
Examples:
One spare bedroom, £75 per week rent, currently get £75 per week Housing Benefit.  Housing Benefit will be reduced by £10.50 per week and the resident will have to pay £10.50 towards their rent as they will only receive £64.50 Housing Benefit.  
If they only get partial Housing Benefit the entitlement will be calculated as though the total rent was only £64.50 instead of £75.  
What options do householders have?
Pay the difference between the rent and the Housing Benefit.
To do this people may well need help with budgeting and dealing with debts.  Tenants may be able to apply for Discretionary Housing Payments but this will be regularly reviewed.  
Apply for a home with fewer bedrooms.
The housing associations in Walsall are talking to each other about how they can help tenants move to smaller properties.  Tenants should talk to their own landlord initially.  
Apply for a mutual exchange to a smaller home.
Tenants are able to swap their home with another tenant.  Tenants are able to talk to their landlord about this or log on to www.homeswapper.co.uk
 
to register their details.
Take in a lodger to use the spare bedroom.
However, Housing Benefit may be reduced by a non dependant charge depending on how much income they have.  The lodger would have to pay at least enough money each week to cover the non dependant charge.  The claimant also has to tell Housing Benefit how much money the lodger gives because it will count as income.  Under current rules you are allowed to keep the first £20 that a lodger pays you without it reducing your Housing Benefit.  
Walsall Under Occupation Project
This project is managed by Walsall Housing Group on behalf of Walsall Council for all tenants in the Walsall borough.  The project has been set up to help tenants move to smaller properties where they have 2 or more spare bedrooms.  
If you register with the project you will get help to find a new home, including advice about your housing options, Gold Band priority status on WHG's waiting list, financial assistance items such as paying off rent arrears, removal costs and gas cooker connections in the new home.  
If you want to know more about this project you can contact Helen Brookes on 0300 555 666 or email her at Helen.Brookes@whgrp.co.uk . You can also speak to your TMO Officer who can refer you to the project.