Under Occupation Penalty Update

This briefing paper provides an update on the implementation of the under-occupation penalty during August and September 2013.

The under-occupation penalty reduces the amount of housing benefit that people can get if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home. This measure has applied to housing benefit claimants of working age since 1st April 2013.

If someone is a council or housing association tenant of working age receiving housing benefit and renting a home that has more bedrooms than they need, it’s likely that their housing benefit will be reduced. Pensioners claiming housing benefit are not affected.

If housing benefit for the claimant no longer covers the full cost of the rent, the claimant will have to pay the rest of the rent themselves. This must be paid directly to the landlord without exception.

The policy is causing increased hardship and increased arrears and tenants have been unable to move to smaller homes because so few are available.

I cannot help thinking that if the government really wanted to tackle the under-occupation of social housing it would have done two things: Firstly, extended the policy to retired people who comprise the majority of under-occupiers; and secondly ensure that the Homes & Communities Agency prioritised the building of one-bedroom flats and one-bedroom accommodation for the elderly into which single people could move. The fact that it is doing neither casts doubt on its seriousness in tackling under-occupation and gives credibility to the belief that the policy is really nothing more than a way of reducing people’s entitlement to benefits in a way that is ‘random’ but which can be easily justified to the undiscerning voter.

A copy of the briefing paper can be freely downloaded from HERE

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