Size criteria - social sector - how will it affect you?

From 1 April 2013 the Government introduced size limit rules into Housing Benefit for working age people renting from a local authority, a registered housing association or other registered social landlord.

This means there are restrictions on the size of property Housing Benefit will pay for, based on who lives in the property. If you are assessed as having more bedrooms in your accommodation that is necessary then your housing benefit will be restricted. Please note the changes affect housing benefit entitlement only and not any tenancy rights.

What does working age mean?

Anyone under state pension credit age. 'Pension age' is increasing from 60 (before April 2010) to 66 (from April 2020) and is currently around age 63 3/4. You can use the government's online calculator to check when you reach 'pension age'.

What if my partner is over state pension credit age?

If one member of a couple receiving Housing Benefit is over state pension credit age then the size limit will not apply to them. However, changes proposed with the introduction of Universal Credit may have implications for those making a first claim after that date.

What does under occupying mean?

If someone is assessed as having more bedrooms in their accommodation than is necessary according to the new rules (see below), they will be considered to be under occupying that property.

How many rooms am I allowed?

The decision on whether a house is larger than you require or not depends on the number of bedrooms the property has. The table below shows how the number of bedrooms required is worked out. The rules allow one bedroom for:

  • a single person or a couple (married or unmarried)
  • any other single person or couple aged 16 or over
  • any two children of the same sex aged under 16
  • any two children aged under 10
  • any other child (other than a foster child or child whose main home is elsewhere)
  • a carer (or team of carers) who do not live with you but provide you or your partner with overnight care

What will happen if I am under occupying?

If you are assessed as under occupying your accommodation a percentage reduction will be made to your eligible rent and any eligible service charges. This percentage will depend on how many rooms you are under occupying by:

  • 14% if someone is considered to have one extra bedroom
  • 25% if someone has two or more extra bedrooms

Are you allowed a room for a foster child?

Where you or your partner are an approved foster carer (or a formal kinship carer in Scotland) only one extra bedroom will be allowed under the size criteria rules for use by a foster child or children. If you require more than one additional room for foster children, you can apply for additional support with your housing costs through the Discretionary Housing Payment Fund (DHP).

Who is exempt?

Non mainstream accommodation: These are mooring charges for house boats and site charges for caravans and mobile homes as well as various "excluded tenancies" within schedule 2 of the Housing Benefit Regulations, such as regulated tenancies.

Exempt accommodation: This is a particular type of supported accommodation defined for housing benefit purposes as accommodation provided by a non-metropolitan county council in England, a housing association, a registered charity or voluntary organisation where that body or a person acting on its behalf also provides the claimant with care, support or supervision as set out in paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to the Consequential Provisions Regulations 2006.

I share the house with someone else, how is my room allowance worked out?

If you occupy your accommodation jointly with someone else the size limit rules will take into account everyone living in the property when deciding whether you are under-occupying for Housing Benefit purposes. If it is decided that you are under-occupying, a percentage reduction will be taken off the whole eligible rent and any eligible service charges and your Housing Benefit will then be based on the proportion of the rent you are liable to pay.


Mr Green lives in a three bedroom flat which he shares with Mr Blue. The rent is £100 a week and they split the rent 50/50. Mr Green currently receives Housing Benefit to cover his share of the rent.

Under the size limit rules Mr Green would be considered to be under-occupying as he and Mr Blue would only require two rooms.

As he is over occupying by one room a 14% reduction would be applied to the full rent making it £86, as Mr Green is liable for half the rent he would then receive £43 Housing Benefit a week.

If Mr Green decided to remain in the flat he would need to make up the remaining £7 himself.


Helen is a lone parent with one child, Laura. She lives in a four bedroom flat as a joint tenant with her friend Jane and pays half of the £130 weekly rent. Jane's earnings take her above Housing Benefit eligibility, but Helen is unemployed and entitled to Housing Benefit of the full eligible rent (half of £130 = £65).

Under the size limit rules, the accommodation is under-occupied by 1 room. Total rent = £130, minus the 14% reduction of £18.20 = £111.80. Helen's eligible rent is half of this – that is, £55.90.

I share care of my children with my ex-partner, are we both entitled to a room for them?

Where parents who don't live together have shared care of their children, the children will be treated as living with the parent who is treated as responsible for them and provides their main home.

For someone to be treated as responsible for a child or young person, the child or young person must normally be living with them. If a child or young person spends equal amounts of time in different households, or there is a question as to whom they normally live with, the Local Authority will decide the child's main address.

The parent who is not considered to provide their main home will not be entitled to receive Housing Benefit for an extra room for their child/children. If they wish to remain in their current accommodation they will need to make up the shortfall in rent themselves.

My house has been adapted to cater for my disability. Will I be allowed an extra room for this reason?

No, however if there is a reason that an extra room is necessary and related to your disability you may be able to get help  with the extra rent through the Discretionary Housing Payment fund.

My child has a disability and cannot share a room. Will I be allowed an extra room for them?

Yes, however, the Local Authority must be satisfied that the child's disabilities are such that it is inappropriate for the child to be expected to share a bedroom. The Local Authority must be provided with sufficient medical evidence in order to make a decision. You may also be able to get help with extra rent through the Discretionary Housing Payment fund.

My child is away at university, can I keep their room for when they are home in the holidays?

Yes, but only as long as the absence is temporary (less than thirteen weeks or 52 weeks for students) and the young person concerned intends to return home.

My child is in the Armed Forces. Can I keep their room for when they are on leave?

Parents of armed forces personnel, who are away from home on operations, can continue to have their son/daughter included when applying the size criteria.

In order for this to apply, the following conditions must be met:-

  • the adult son/daughter must have been a non-dependant before deployment on operations; and
  • the adult son/daughter has an intention to return to live with their parents; and
  • the Local Authority must be satisfied that the adult son/daughter is away on deployment on operations. The claimant can obtain a letter from the son or daughter's chain of command in the armed forces, confirming the deployment on operations.

On operations does not necessarily mean away from the UK, just away from the home they normally occupy. It will also cover pre-deployment training and post operation leave (which is described as "normalisation").

Will my housing provider find me a smaller house?

If you wish to move to smaller accommodation it is advisable to talk to your landlord. They should be able to advise you if moving to smaller accommodation is possible and what steps you need to take.

My partner has just passed away, am I expected to move?

In these circumstances you would be protected and the size limit rules would not be applied until after 12 months or you moved home or there was another change of circumstances (whichever came first).

I could afford my rent but just lost my job and need to claim Housing Benefit. Does this mean I won't get benefit to cover all my rent because I have an extra room?

Provided you have not claimed Housing Benefit in the last 52 weeks, the size limit rules will not be applied for the first 13 weeks. They will be applied earlier than 13 weeks if you move home or have another change of circumstances.

How will my rent be paid?

If you are assessed as under-occupying, your reduced Housing Benefit will be paid as it has been previously and the remainder of the rent will need to be paid by you to the landlord. This will be a decision for you and your landlord.

How will I make up any shortfall in rent?

If you experience a reduction in your Housing Benefit you may wish to find more appropriately sized accommodation or stay where you are and make up the shortfall in rent yourself.

Move: You may decide that it would be best to move to appropriately sized accommodation in the social rented sector. Your landlord will be able to talk this through with you and advise you as to whether this is a viable option. You may decide that moving to the private rented sector would be appropriate for you. Again your landlord or the Council could offer advice.

Ask non-dependants to contribute: If you decide to stay in your current accommodation and make up the shortfall yourself you may wish to ask other non-dependants living with you to contribute to the rent.

Take in a lodger: You may wish to take in a lodger to fill the extra room you have. You should check this is allowed by your landlord. If you do this the lodger would be assessed as part of the household meaning you would not necessarily be considered to be under-occupying and you may have more income from their rent. The income you receive from a lodger may affect your benefit entitlement. These calculations may be complicated and you may wish to seek further advice.

Increase hours of work: If you are in employment you may consider increasing your working hours to make up the shortfall in rent. However, this may also affect your entitlement to benefit.

Apply for a DHP: In certain circumstances a claimant may be entitled to a payment from the Discretionary Housing Payment Fund. This is a limited fund administered by the council for those they consider in real need of additional help with their housing costs.

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