Changes are planned to welfare benefits, which will be implemented from April 2013 through to 2017 by the UK Government.  One of the most significant of these changes is the introduction of size criteria in relation to the number of bedrooms in a property occupied by working age tenants in the social rented sector claiming housing benefit.

Aberdeenshire Council is providing information to people who rent a home from the council or a housing association as part of a range of measures to encourage residents to think about benefit changes. Letters and leaflets are going out initially to council tenants of working age initially who will be affected by changes to the size criteria for housing benefit claims as of April 1, 2013. At a later date information will also be sent to housing association tenants in receipt of housing benefit once the council has matched records to highlight people who may be affected.

Aberdeenshire Council’s head of finance Alan Wood said: “Welfare reform will have a significant impact on both residents and the council. Therefore throughout the transition we will provide information and support to people who need it.

“We are writing to council tenants and those in the social rented sector who are under-occupying their homes in terms of the size criteria to encourage people to start thinking now about the changes that will come in April 2013.

“Providing letters, leaflets and information online and at events are just part of a range of initiatives we hope to undertake with residents, as well as with our own staff, to get people to understand the implications of welfare reform.”

If people are under the qualifying age for state pension credit and have a household make-up with more bedrooms than required (under the size criteria) then their housing benefit entitlement will be restricted. For those with one bedroom more than required (under the size criteria) then housing benefit will be reduced by 14%, for those under occupying by two or more bedrooms the reduction is 25%.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) criteria states that a separate bedroom is required for:

  • every adult couple (married or unmarried)
  • any other adult 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 the tenant but provide them or their partner with overnight care

Aberdeenshire has 6,429 council tenants who are in receipt of housing benefit of whom 3,016 are of working age. A recent analysis has shown that 944 council tenants of working age in receipt of housing benefit are under-occupying their homes, of whom 579 are single person households and will, therefore, lose housing benefit if their circumstances remain unchanged by April 2013.