Welfare reform

The government is making changes to most benefits through the Welfare Reform Act (2012). This is the biggest restructuring of the welfare system for 60 years. The council is very concerned that the changes may have serious consequences for some and we want to ensure people have as much information as possible, and are aware of sources of help. 

Some details of this programme of welfare reform are still emerging. If you print these pages, make sure you revisit regularly to check for updates. You may also wish to follow our twitter account so we can provide you with updates as we are made aware of them by the government.

It is very important that you read fully and carefully any correspondence you receive about your benefits. If you or someone you know is struggling to understand a letter, please contact us.

An illustrated version of the government's welfare reforms can be viewed here.

How will changes to the benefit system affect you? 

1. Under occupation penalty/'bedroom tax'

What’s changing?

The government is reducing housing benefit to those who live in a council or a housing association home. This change started in April 2013 and affects people who have one or more spare bedroom.
If your housing benefit is cut you will have to pay your landlord the difference between your housing benefit and your rent. The government rules on this mean that even those who ask to move to a smaller property will still have their housing benefit reduced until a suitable property has become available.

The detail 

You will be affected if:
  • you are of working age (aged between 16 and 62);
  • you are claiming housing benefit to pay some or all of your rent; and
  • you have, by the government’s definition, a spare bedroom in your home.
You won’t be affected if:
  • you live in a council or housing association home that is a one bedroom flat or bedsit;
  • you or your partner are old enough to receive pension credits (in April 2013 the pension credit age will be about 62 years). 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced two more exceptions to this new benefit rule:

  • Foster parents are permitted an additional bedroom, as long as they have fostered or been approved to do so in the past 12 months.
  • Parents with children in the armed forces can claim a bedroom for them, as long as they intend to return home.

More information on these two exceptions can be read here.

Am I ‘under occupying’? 

The government says you need one bedroom for: 
  • any child who is temporarily absent due to attending university and they regularly return home
  • one bedroom is allowed for registered foster carers, with resident foster children
  • bedrooms are allowed for household members who are members of the armed forces and currently serving away from home
  • each adult couple
  • any other person aged 16 or over
  • two children of the same sex under the age of 16
  • two children under the age of 10 regardless of their sex
  • any other child
  • a carer who does not normally live with you if you or your partner need overnight care (if you are of working age, have a disability and need a ‘spare’ bedroom to allow a carer to stay overnight, contact us immediately so we can try to help you keep more of your housing benefit).
As of April 2013, if you (or your partner) require care and have a carer stay on a  regular basis, you may be entitled to an extra room within the size criteria. The carer must not usually live in your property and you must have a spare bedroom for their overnight use.
You may be entitled to an extra room if you have a child/children, who through reasons of disability, cannot reasonably be expected to share a bedroom. You must advise the Housing Benefit department immediately if you think this may the case for your household.
Under occupancy FAQs (16.8 Kb pdf)

For further information, download the non-residential carer additional room rate information (95 Kb pdf). To apply, download the non-residential carer additional room rates application form (252 Kb pdf).

If you are worried about how you are affected by this new housing benefit rule it’s important to contact your landlord so that you can begin to take action immediately.
The government rules apply even if:
  • you and your partner have to sleep apart because of a medical condition
  • your children live somewhere else but you have a bedroom for them when they stay with you.

How much housing benefit will I lose?

If you have one spare bedroom defined by the government (see above) your housing benefit will be cut by at least 14% of the rent you pay every week. This will be at least £10 per week.

If you have two or more spare bedrooms, you will lose at least 25%. This will be approximately about £18 per week*.

*These amounts are averages for claimants receiving full housing benefit (based on current rent charges) and can differ from property to property. 

What can I do?  

Ask for advice now if you are worried about being able to afford your rent. If you cannot pay your rent, you could lose your home. There are several options available. You could: 
  • increase your rent payment – to help get the most from your income, you could:
    • check that you are receiving all the benefits you are entitled to by visiting benefits adviser service
    • check that you are on the best deal/charge for your electricity and/or gas (and water, if you are billed directly by Anglian Water)
    • be careful with spending – cut back on any unnecessary extras 
    • contact us for budgeting advice 
  • if possible, supplement your income with additional paid work or increased hours
  • talk to your landlord about moving to a smaller home or visit www.norwich.houseexchange.org.uk (for Norwich City Council tenants, advice can be found here)
  • ask us for extra financial help - we have a very limited amount of money available to make discretionary payments towards housing. You can find out more here (click here for an application form)
  • if possible, supplement your income with additional paid work or increased hours
  • increase contributions made by any adult children, relatives or friends who are living in your home
  • take in a lodger to share the costs of your home - you would need to ask our permission before you do this and you should take all necessary steps to safeguard yourself and your family before inviting a lodger into your home (some advice on this, from the Department for Work and Pensions, can be found here). 

Further information about these changes 

Welfare Reform leaflet

Our welfare reform leaflet explains some of the changes that could affect your housing benefit.

Download the welfare reform leaflet (505 Kb pdf) ​

2. Changes to council tax benefit  

Council tax benefit has been replaced by the council tax reduction scheme in Norwich. The new scheme came into effect on 1 April 2013.

Following consultation, Norwich City Council opted for a ‘no cuts’ approach for 2013-14 and for this period we will continue to provide council tax reduction in the same way as we previously did when people were receiving council tax benefit.

This means people who were receiving benefit before the new scheme came into effect on 1 April 2013 will see no reduction in what they receive during 2013-14 and the council will cover the financial shortfall by other means.

Click here for more information about the council tax reduction scheme.

3. Benefits cap 

From 15 July 2013, the government is putting limits in place on the overall amount of benefit you can receive. The government will add up how much money you get from a range of benefits and if the total comes to more than the maximum allowed, your payments will reduce. About 100 households in Norwich will be affected.

The maximum amount of benefit you will be able to receive after this will be:
  • £500 per week for single parents
  • £500 per week for couples with or without children
  • £350 per week for single people without children.  
The new rules on capping benefits will not apply to you:
  • if you get pension credit
  • if you get working tax credit
  • if you or a member of your household is claiming disability living allowance, attendance allowance or the support element of employment support allowance.

Further information about the benefit changes can be found at www.gov.uk or via the government helpline on 0845 605 7064.

4. Lower levels of increase on many benefits 

Benefits (excluding pensions, carer and disability benefits and also the group component of Employment and Support Allowance) will be increased by only 1%. This is slower than the rate at which prices are rising in the shops and elsewhere.

You do not need to do anything but you might need to alter the way you budget to help you manage, as your benefits will have less buying power.

When is this happening?

From April 2013 and for three years.  

5. Changes to Disability Living Allowance 

From October 2013, anyone currently in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) who is aged between 16 and 64, and who reports a change to their health situation, will be invited to claim for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
From June 2013, new claimants will receive the new Personal Independence Payment.
From 2015 the medical assessment of all DLA claimants, even those who have an indefinite or lifetime award, will begin. The Department for Work and Pensions will contact you by letter and you do not have to do anything until they do. 

It is very important to read fully and carefully any correspondence you receive about your benefits. If you or someone you know finds a benefit letter difficult to understand, please contact us.

Further information on the transfer to PIP and medical assessment is available on the Department for Work and Pensions website.   

6. Universal Credit 

Universal Credit is a new single payment for people who are looking for work or who are on a low income. It is paid into a bank account in the same way as a monthly salary. It will replace:
  • income-based jobseeker’s allowance
  • income-related employment and support allowance
  • income support
  • child tax credits
  • working tax credits
  • housing benefit. 
Most claimants on low incomes will still be paid Universal Credit when they first start a new job or increase their part-time hours.

When is this happening?

From October 2013 there was a small scale introduction in pilot areas around the country. Norwich is not currently included this. It is not expected that there will be wide scale introduction of Universal Credit until 2015 in this area.

(If you have moved into Norwich from one of the pilot area where you claimed Universal Credit; you will continue to receive Universal Credit in Norwich).

7. Changes to housing benefit for the under 35s

Housing benefit has changed for single people (those not living as a couple and/or with dependent children) aged 25 to 34 who rent from a private landlord. 

Only those aged 35 and over will be paid enough housing benefit to allow them to rent a one bedroom property. Those under 35 will be entitled to enough money to rent a room in a shared house. 

When is this happening?

This change is already in place and came into force in January 2012.

The detail

If you already get housing benefit at the one bedroom rate, the money paid to you or your landlord could go down.

These changes will not affect you if you:
  • rent from a local authority or housing association
  • are aged under 22 and have been in care
  • live in supported housing provided by a housing association, registered charity, voluntary organisation or the county council
  • get the severe disability premium in your benefit because you are entitled to the middle or higher rate care component of Disability Living Allowance
  • need an extra bedroom for a carer who provides you with the overnight care you need but who doesn’t normally live with you
  • have spent at least three months in a homeless hostel or hostel specialising in rehabilitating and resettling within the community (to benefit from this exemption you need to have been offered and accepted support services to enable you to be rehabilitated or resettled in the community)
  • are managed under active multi-agency management under the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements.
Further information is available on the Department for Work and Pensions website

8. Sources of help/advice 

We understand these government changes to the benefits paid to working age residents can be worrying. If you would like to discuss your situation and possible options, please call 0344 980 3333 for further advice, email info@norwich.gov.uk or go to City Hall during opening hours.

Take a financial health check at www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk or call the Money Advice Service on 0300 500 5000.

Council tenants can call our money advice team on 0344 980 3333 or click here to find out more about our money advice services for tenants.

Those who do not live in council property can access debt advice provided by the National Debtline by calling 0808 808 4000. This is a free call service.

Further information about the benefit changes can be found at www.gov.uk or via the government helpline on 0845 605 7064.

An illustrated version of possible sources of support and help is available here.

Did you know you don’t need to be a parent to claim working tax credit?
Leading charity Child Poverty Action Group says only 30% of people entitled to this benefit are claiming it, whereas take up for parent-related benefits is at almost 90%.

You can also claim for periods when you are not working (providing you qualify); for example, if you are on maternity leave, get sick pay or are in between jobs.

Don’t miss out on money you could be entitled to – call the tax credit helpline on 0345 300  3900 or go to www.gov.uk/working-tax-credit/overview to find out more. 

This page was last updated on 17 February 2014.