7 “bedroom tax” myths that need busting

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Waking up to the facts about the “bedroom tax”

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, 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!

Rachel Connor has been with the charity for over 8 years, starting in Helpline before joining the MoneyAware team in 2012. Rach enjoys travelling, video games, watching anime, reading and creative writing in her spare time (currently writing a Young Adult fantasy series). She had a previous life as head writer on Cartoon Network’s Ed Edd n Eddy and as a copywriter for LivingSocial. She’s also written comics and graphic novels for the animated series Regular Show.

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  • Sue McCafferty

    Whilst it’s commendable that you are trying to reassure tenants I would take issue with one or two of your points. It actually IS one more bill; social tenants are not accustomed to having to use part of their benefit towards rent but this will be a weekly bill they will have to pay. Unlike some other bills, where you can economise and pay a bit at a time the rent must be paid at risk of losing one’s home. Secondly, the idea that the average is around £14. This is based on figures from 2010 and accounts for less than half the tenants (why you link to the BBC I’m not sure, they’re not known for their housing research). Over 250,000 tenants will be paying over £16 per week, some as much as £35 to £40. Yet the basic rate of subsistence benefits is universal; so one person on JSA of £71 might have to find £16 per week, another person on JSA of £71 will have to find £25. The myth is of the average, not the other way round. Families with disabled children are not ‘exempt’. If a child is ‘severely’ disabled it is down to the discretion of the local authority not to impose the tax; there is no general exemption. It is a very confusing subject: hence the presence of myths everywhere!

    • Hi there Sue, thanks for posting.

      The point we were trying to make by saying bedroom tax isn’t a bill was that it doesn’t come as a statement in the post along with utility bills and the like. It’s a reduction in allowance, and housing benefit claimants will have to make up the difference from their income. As we mentioned in the blogpost, anyone experiencing difficulty should seek advice on how to budget for the charge.

      There is something available called the Discretionary Housing Payment which might help people to make up the shortfall. We would say as a word of caution however that, as the name suggests, the payment is discretionary and it’s up to the local authority to decide who is eligible. There are no rules that give anyone a right to the payment and the local authorities will ultimately make the decision whether someone is suffering hardship.

      You are quite right – there are many myths abound that we’re all trying to make sense of. Hopefully in time things will be a lot clearer!

      Best regards


  • Sorry but I disagree.
    Myth 1)Quote from the Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual issued by the DWP Appendix A Section 2: 2.2 “We expect that most claimants affected by this measure (the Bedroom Tax) will find ways of making up the shortfall themselves, in order to remain in their existing home.” So if this is the case any talk by Ministers or MP’s about the Bedroom Tax being an attempt to address the issue of overcrowding or waiting lists is proved to be sheer nonsense, lies and spin. It is a policy that only works (ie saves money) if it fails (ie no one moves and pays the shortfall.) So it is a tax. and it is plunging people deep into poverty and despair. It is time for all decent minded people to stand up and be counted as against a Government that is wickedly victimising its own people?

    Myth 3) The amount people pay in rent varies so the amount of Housing Benefit they are awarded varies so the amount of Bedroom Tax they pay also varies.
    Myth 7) That you know what you are talking about

  • j.h.whittaker

    Will Ia person who is renting a council house,and is not in receipt of any benefits,be charged a higher rent if they have unoccupied bedrooms?

    • Hi there,

      If a person doesn’t claim any benefits to help with rent, they will not be expected to pay any higher amount. The charge only applies to those getting help paying their rent.

      Best regards


  • Susan

    R.E Myth 4 – Under the Legislation Housing Act 1985, Chapter 68 Part 5, Overcrowding Section 326. It states that a room that is over 50 sq. ft. but under 70 sq. ft. is only able to accommodate 1/2 a person (a child under 10) so if you are being charged extra for a bedroom that is below 70 sq. ft. and you do not have a child under 10 then you should not have to pay the extra money because you can not rent it out to a lodger because it is not suitable for an adult

    • Hi Susan,

      Just to refer back to the point we made in the blogpost, it’s up to the tenant’s landlord to accurately describe to the council the dimensions of a spare room in the property. If anyone feels that a room in their house is too small to be classed as a bedroom, they should let the landlord know.

      Best regards


  • Sue

    Everyone should rent privately in future, it would cost the Government a fortune. I know a few families that rent out a 3 bedroomed property, sure they only get the Housing Benefit for a 2 bedroomed house but at £150 per week this would normally cover a 3 bedroomed property anyway. Those claimants cost us more, they keep the spare room for free, surely it would be fairer to reduce their Housing Benefit by 14% if they have a spare bedroom they shouldnt have. Give them £129 per week instead of £150 which is the Leeds City Council LHA for a 2 bedroomed house.

  • Drew

    Sue sounds like she is very angry about this “tax” Good on the goverment for trying to tackle the scrounging ways this country has come to. I am up everyday for work and havnt had a holiday for 2 years because ive been too busy working and paying my taxes. I have seen the people walking into recieve their JSA and i assure you 60% of them do not want jobs. If you cannot afford to raise a family – DONT HAVE ONE until you can. People that have been recieving JSA for years because they cannot be bothered to work make me sick

    • jane jardine

      I can’t stand the way that people categorize all people on benefits to be scroungers..Jobs losses and health problems’ are issues which individuals are not always in control of. Where are the 1 bedroom properties in rural Wales to move into? I wish!!!

  • David Jenkins

    What about unregulated greedy bankers bonuses being paid when banks make sizeable losses or are owned by taxpayers your only targeting the weaker people in society stop capitalist greed first before punishing the masses

  • Alesha

    What if a person is considered “severely mentaly impaired”, these people are exempt from paying council tax, so are these people not exempt from paying bedroom tax aswell?

    • Hi Alesha,

      As we understand it if a person is considered “severely mentally impaired” the bedroom allowance would still be the same. It would only be affected if they need an extra bedroom for a full-time carer.

      So if the person is capable of living by themselves and only requires one bedroom they will only get housing benefit for one bedroom.

      Hope this helps,

  • Dunk

    Myth bust 6 is terrible. There may only be 70,000 one bedroom homes, but 180,000 families don’t all need to seek out the one bedroom apartments. A proportion of those under-occupying will be people in 3 bedroom houses who only need 2 bedrooms. There are a heck of a lot of two bed properties. This article is typical of all those seeking to make a sensible policy appear bad.

    You should replace Myth Bust 6 with :-
    Myth 6 : “This is only about taxing the poor”.
    In reality it is an innovative way of preventing those on benefits from being paid extra by the tax payer to live in bigger properties than they need, while also freeing up 180,000 bedrooms for the massed ranks of immigrants entering the country.