Homes paying bedroom tax increased fivefold?

CLAIM: The number of homes in Northern Ireland that have had their housing supplementary payments removed has increased five times more in the past year.

CONCLUSION:  ACCURATE WITH CONSIDERATION. The 140 households whose top-up payments ceased in the past year is four times more than the 35 households in the previous year. Also, we do not know the current status of the 175 households whose top-up payments have ceased. As of 30/9/2018, there are 32,378 households who are receiving the supplementary payments.

On 1 December 2018, the Irish News reported that “the number of homes in Northern Ireland hit by the ‘bedroom tax’ has increased fivefold in the past year”.

What is the “bedroom tax”?

The Social Sector Size Criteria, otherwise known as the “bedroom tax”, can reduce the amount of the benefit that someone receives to help pay their rent. The bedroom tax “is a reduction in Housing Benefit or Universal Credit for people who live in a property that is owned by NIHE or a housing association and that is too large for their household”.

The “tax” was first introduced by the UK government as part of its 2012 welfare reform and came into force from 1 April 2013 in Great Britain. The Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 determines size criteria to assess whether a housing benefit claimant is under-occupying his or her accommodation. The size criteria allow only one bedroom per

  • Couple
  • Person over the age of 10
  • Two children (under 16) of the same sex
  • Two children who are under the age of 10
  • Non-resident overnight carer

A household is under-occupied when it contains more bedrooms than the size criteria allows. This means that, if you live in a council or housing association home, your housing benefits will be reduced according to the number of spare bedrooms:

  • by 14% where under-occupying by one bedroom
  • by 25% where under-occupying by two or more bedrooms

There are also special circumstances where extra bedrooms may be permitted.

The bedroom tax in Northern Ireland

The introduction of the bedroom tax in Northern Ireland is laid out in The Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016.

The original commencement date for the regulations was postponed from 23 January to 20 February 2017, so it coincided with the introduction of new regulations that provide “for welfare supplementary payments to mitigate the impact on calculations of housing benefit of the social sector size criteria”.

The new regulations mean that claimants affected by the bedroom tax will get a supplementary payment that equals their loss of housing benefit. The top-up payments are made to the tenant, or directly to the landlord, depending on who receives the original housing benefits. The mitigation measurements will remain in force until March 2020.

The regulations make an exception where people will stop receiving top-up payments if all of the following three conditions apply:

  1. if you move to another property owned by the Housing Executive or a housing association and
  2. the new property has the same number of bedrooms or more bedrooms than the one you are leaving and
  3. you do not have management transfer status.

How many households stopped receiving supplementary payments?

The Irish News article reports that now 175 households “are no longer receiving” the top-up payments, “five times more than the 35 affected at the same point last year”. (This should read either “four times more” or “five times as many”.) The Department for Communities in Northern Ireland published three reports on three time periods which “detail the number of Welfare Supplementary Payments that stopped when customers moved properties and continued to under-occupy by at least the same number of bedrooms”.

The latest report states that “during the period 1 April 2018 to 30 September 2018 a total of 54 Welfare Supplementary Payments came to an end”. In the previous six months, 86 payments came to an end, and in the period 1 April to 30 September 2017 a total of 35 payments ceased. The sum of these figures if 175 (see summary table below).

While it is accurate to say that 175 households stopped receiving the top-up payment, this does not mean that there are currently 175 households who are in under-occupying properties. As the Department for Communities explained to FactCheckNI: “Some of the households who have had mitigation ended may have since:

  • ceased to under-occupy in a property;
  • ceased to claim Housing Benefit; or
  • moved from the social rented sector.”

Furthermore, “The Department does not routinely monitor the ongoing Housing Benefit status” of those households who have their top-up payment stopped.

Cliff edge 2020

As mentioned, the top-up mitigation scheme expires in March 2020. In the Irish News article, SDLP Deputy Leader, Nichola Mallon, said, “Come 2020, 34,000 households will be hit by the bedroom tax…” According to the Department for Communities most recent report (ended 30/9/2018), there are 32,378 households receiving supplementary payments (less than the 34,114 households for the period ended 30/9/2017; see table below).

Receiving Supplementary Payments Ceased Supplementary Payments Ratio
1 April – 30 September 2017 34,114 35 0.1%
1 October 2017 – 31 March 2018 33,114 86 0.26%/0.36%
1 April – 30 September 2018 32,378 54 0.17%/0.54%

Summary

As reported in the Irish News, 175 households stopped receiving supplementary payments for under-occupying properties. However, we do not know the current status of these households, nor does the Department for Communities.

As of 30/9/2018, there are 32,378 households in Northern Ireland receiving the supplementary payment. This mitigation top-up scheme is scheduled to end in March 2020.