Welfare Reform - What You Need To Know

9 July 2013

The Government is reforming the welfare and benefit system across the whole of the UK. Those who claim benefits, including housing benefit claimants are likely to be affected by the changes. Across the UK a new overall payment known as Universal Credit will replace a number of existing benefits. It will comprise one single benefit for people aged 18 to 64 years old, paid to the household. The amount of Universal Credit which will be paid to claimants will depend on individual household needs and circumstances. The same legislation is being proposed for claimants in Northern Ireland as in the remainder of the UK.

 

At Helm, we want to ensure that you are informed about the proposed changes to the housing benefit scheme which might affect you and your family later this year.

 

Please note if you or your partner were born before 6th October 1951, the proposed changes will not affect you. Tenants who do not receive Housing Benefit will also not be affected.

 

The proposed changes to the law on benefits will be discussed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in the coming months. New laws relating to benefits have already been passed in Great Britain. Presently in NI, if housing association or Housing Executive tenants claim Housing Benefit there is no restriction on the amount of benefit they are entitled to receive relative to the size of their home. If the new legislation goes ahead, this is likely to change during 2013. A size criterion is likely to be introduced for new and existing working-age Housing Benefit claimants living in a housing association or Housing Executive house. Working age is defined as â??if both you and your partner (if any) were born after the 5th of October 1951â??.

 

The restrictions under the proposed new law on benefits would apply to all Housing Benefit claimants who are of working age, as defined above, where the claimant, and any family, is under-occupying his / her home. â??Under occupationâ?? is defined as those tenants who have one or more spare bedroom(s) in their home. Similar restrictions have applied to claims in the private-rented sector for many years.

 

The new system would allow one bedroom for each person or couple in the household. The following exceptions would apply:

  • A child under the age of 16 would be expected to share with one other child of the same gender;
  • A child under 10 years would be expected to share with one other child under 10, regardless of gender;
  • A bedroom for a non-resident carer will be allowed in the calculation of necessary bedrooms where that carer provides necessary overnight care for the claimant or their partner.

Additionally, exemptions for foster carers and the armed forces will apply across the whole of the UK.

 

The proposed changes to Housing Benefit

 

Under the proposed changes to the benefit system, Housing Benefit would be reduced by a percentage of your weekly rent for each extra bedroom deemed to be under-occupied in your home. The proposed percentage reductions in the amount of Housing Benefit which would be paid are as follows:

  • 14% per week for one extra bedroom
  • 25% per week for two or more extra bedrooms

 

Examples:

 

If you have one extra bedroom, 14% of your rent will be taken off your weekly housing benefit:

If your weekly rent charge is (see amounts below) Then your Housing Benefit would be reduced by 25%, i.e. the amount shown below per week:
£60 £8.40
£70 £9.80
£75 £10.50

 

If you have two or more extra bedrooms, 25% of your rent will be taken off your weekly housing benefit:

If your weekly rent charge is (see amounts below) Then your Housing Benefit would be reduced by 25%, i.e. the amount shown below per week:
£60 £15
£70 £17.50
£75 £18.75

 

If you receive less housing benefit than the reduction, your housing benefit will be nil.

 

If you are affected by the proposed cuts in housing benefit and choose to remain in â??under-occupationâ??, you will be required to make up the shortfall between housing benefit and your rent charges.

 

Helm will work with tenants who will be affected by the proposed changes

 

We will do this by helping tenants who wish to transfer to a smaller home to seek a suitable alternative. Over the coming months we will be visiting all Helm tenants living in houses with two or more bedrooms so that we can profile households, update our records and gain a better understanding of the needs of our tenants so that we can offer tenants the right advice.


If the proposed changes go ahead we will write to any Housing Benefit claimants we have identified as being affected, advising them of how their benefit will be affected and what help might be available. Tenants can get more information from our Housing Management staff or their local Housing Benefit Office of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.


We will keep the information on our website up to date with any changes to the proposals under Welfare Reform. For further information, please contact us at welfarereform@helmhousing.org

 

Useful links:
Visit the Homeswapper website to advertise a house exchange online
Use the online Housing Benefit calculator on the Housing Executiveâ??s website
Find you nearest Housing Benefit office
Download Money worries - practical advice 
Go to NIDirect for more information on other benefits
See the latest updates from the DSD about Welfare Reform

 

Additionally, Helm Housing have teamed up with NIFHA (Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations) to produce the following leaflet that aims to increase awareness of the impact of Welfare Reform on our tenants

 

www.helmhousing.org/uploads/cms_file/100420130842.pdf

 

The document can also be found under the Publications section of our website, under the new Welfare Reform sub-section
 

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