It seems that changes to benefits brings about a whole new batch of myths, but few have sparked more untruths than the under occupancy charge, commonly known as the “bedroom tax”.
The problem with myths is that they’re interpreted as fact, and that’s where the problems start. With this in mind, let’s take a selection of the rumours we heard recently, and set the record straight…
Myth 1: “Bedroom tax is one more bill I’ll have to pay”
Not technically. See, bedroom tax isn’t really a tax at all. It’s a reduction in the Housing Benefit you’re currently getting.
When the charge was first mentioned in Parliament no one really knew what to call it, so the term “bedroom tax” was used as a temporary name by the press. The rest, as they say, is history.
You don’t literally have to pay an additional bill, but you do have to take into account the reduction in income or benefit you’ll be receiving. We can help you build a budget that will accommodate your reduction in Housing Benefit.
Myth 2: “Bedroom tax doesn’t apply if there’s a child in each spare room”
As the National Housing Federation state on their website, if two of your children are of the same gender, they’ll most likely be expected to share one bedroom between them until one of them reaches the age of 16. Children of opposite gender will be expected to share until the age of 10.
Myth 3: “The amount of benefit you lose can vary”
Not so. According to the BBC, if tenants are deemed to have one spare room, the amount of rent eligible for housing benefit will be cut by 14%. If they have two or more spare rooms, the cut will be 25%. It’s still not an ideal prospect, but fairly easy to understand.
The government says that the charges will translate into an average reduction in Housing Benefit of about £14 a week for council tenants. Those who rent from housing associations are facing an average reduction of about £16 a week.
Myth 4: “A small bedroom means no cut in housing benefit”
There’s been a flurry of rumours on social media that if your room measurements are less than 70 square feet, then you’re exempt from a reduction in Housing Benefit.
As of yet, the Government has set no clear guidelines on what dimensions would make a room exempt. It’s up to the landlord to accurately describe the property in line with the actual rent charged.
Myth 5: “No one is exempt from bedroom tax”
Luckily, this isn’t the case. The Evening Standard recently reported that families with disabled children and members in the armed forces will not have to pay the charge.
There’s also good news for foster families: Up to 5,000 foster parents will be allowed to keep a spare room without losing a portion of housing benefit.
Myth 6: “If you’re stuck in a property that’s too big for you, then it’s your own fault”
This is probably the saddest myth we’ve heard in regards to the charge. There are many people who wrongly believe that a person affected by this only has themselves to blame for being too “greedy” or “lazy” to seek out a smaller dwelling.
The Guardian recently reported that while 180,000 families are under-occupying their current homes, there’s only 70,000 one bedroom properties available for renting. This figure doesn’t include people who may be looking for one bedroom properties anyway, such as young people ‘flying the family nest’ and couples moving in together.
And an extra myth we’ve seen on Facebook…
Myth 7: “If you’re struggling with bedroom tax, the council can cover the difference”
When people say this, they’re usually referring to something called a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). A person can apply for this if they get housing benefit or council tax benefit, but are having difficulty paying the rest of your rent themselves.
Some people mistakenly believe however that everyone is entitled to a DHP. This is unfortunately not the case. As Shelter have mentioned on their website, each council has been given a pot of money to help vulnerable people who may be struggling with the new charge. Once the money for the year runs out, no more can be paid. Therefore, the council must consider each application carefully and see if this is the only option available.
So what can I do?
With all the benefit changes going on, it’s a good idea to know for certain that you’re claiming all the benefits you’re entitled to. To help, we have an online benefits checker than can quickly identify any unclaimed benefits you may have.
Are you struggling with debt after the changes? Use our anonymous advice tool Debt Remedy.
A big thank you to Alison and Sheree in our Welfare Benefits office for all their help!