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Bedroom tax

If you’re renting a council or housing association property, you’ll need to think carefully about how you use the bedrooms in your home. This is because if you have what’s seen as a spare bedroom, your Housing Benefit and Universal Credit will be reduced. Most people call this the bedroom tax, but it’s officially called the removal of the spare room subsidy or under-occupation penalty.

This can affect single parents whose child doesn’t live with them all the time. If your child stays with both you and their other parent, one of you will be considered as their main home. If you share care equally between you, they’ll be seen as living with the parent who gets Child Benefit.   

This might mean that if you keep a bedroom free for your child, you could get less Housing Benefit or Universal Credit.

How the reduction is decided

What you can do if you’re affected

When the bedroom tax doesn’t apply

How the reduction is decided

When it comes to the bedroom tax, a spare bedroom isn’t necessarily an empty room. This is because some people are expected to share a room.

You’re allowed 1 bedroom in your home for:

  • Every person who is 16 or older
  • Every couple
  • 2 children younger than 16 who are the same gender
  • 2 children younger than 10 regardless of gender
  • Any other child (for example, if you have 3 children under 10)

If you have what’s counted as a spare bedroom, the rent covered by Universal Credit or Housing Benefit will be reduced by 14% for 1 extra bedroom and 25% for 2 or more extra bedrooms.

An example calculation

Sofia has 2 children. Ryan is 9 and Olivia is 7. They live in a 3-bedroom housing association home, and the rent is £100 a week. Sofia has a part-time job and gets Universal Credit to cover her rent. Because Ryan and Olivia are less than 10 years old, they’re expected to share a bedroom. So according to the criteria, Sofia has a spare bedroom.

This means that Sofia’s Universal Credit will be reduced. The housing element will drop by 14%, so she’ll get £86 a week instead of £100. But when Ryan turns 10, the bedroom tax will no longer apply and Universal Credit will cover all of Sofia’s rent.

What you can do if you’re affected

If you think there’s been a mistake in calculating your benefit, you can challenge it. Citizens Advice has more information on challenging a decision about Universal Credit or Housing Benefit.

Make sure you’re getting all the benefits you’re entitled to. You can use our online benefits checker or talk to us for personalised advice. If you’re getting Universal Credit or Housing Benefit and need more help with your housing costs, you could apply to your council for a Discretionary Housing Payment. Your council will decide whether you’re eligible and how much you’ll get.

You could downsize by moving to a smaller property. You might be able to transfer to a smaller home or swap with someone who needs a bigger home through a tenancy transfer. 

Consider taking in a lodger. Bear in mind that you might need your landlord’s permission and your other benefits could be affected. Shelter has a very useful page on dealing with the bedroom tax.

When the bedroom tax doesn’t apply

You might not be affected by bedroom tax rules if:

  • You have shared ownership of your home (it’s part owned and part rented)
  • You’re living in temporary accommodation, other types of supported accommodation or a houseboat or caravan
  • Your child is a student
  • You’re a foster carer
  • Your child is in the armed forces
  • You or your child is disabled
Your child is a student

If your child has left home to study somewhere else, as long as they’re coming back and yours is still their usual home, you won’t have benefit deducted for their bedroom.

You’re a foster carer

You’re allowed 1 extra bedroom if you’re an approved foster carer. As long as it’s been less than a year since you last fostered a child or since you first became an approved carer, this applies even if you’re between placements.

If you have more than 1 extra bedroom for foster children, you’ll only be exempt from the deduction for 1 of the bedrooms. You can apply to your council for a Discretionary Housing Payment to make up for the deduction. It’s up to the council to decide whether they give you the payment, but you should get priority as a foster carer.

Your child is in the armed forces

If you have an adult son or daughter in the armed forces who normally lives with you, there’ll be no deduction for their bedroom while they’re away on operations.

You or your child is disabled

You’re allowed an extra bedroom if:

  • You or someone you live with is disabled and needs regular overnight care from a carer who doesn’t live with you
  • Your child can’t share a room because of their disability

The person who’s disabled must be getting a disability benefit to qualify.

If you’ve had your Universal Credit or Housing Benefit reduced because of the bedroom tax, you can apply to your council for a Discretionary Housing Payment. The council should prioritise you, especially if your home has been adapted or if it would be hard for your family to move.

Contact has more information on how the bedroom tax works for families with disabilities, including a templated letter you can use if you need to challenge the council’s decision. 

Date last updated: 18 May 2023

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