Small Bedrooms Are Still Bedrooms

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An interesting case concerning bedrooms caught my eye and I initially had some sympathy for the tenants. A couple and their 2 young children, both under 10 years, lived in a private rented property in Nuneaton. The second and third bedrooms were very small, but they accepted the property, believing that it was not reasonable to put both the children into the same room. 

The landlord does not appear to have questioned this – he should have. They applied for Universal Credit and had the Spare Room Subsidy removed – according to the DWP rules, this family was only entitled to have the rent paid for a property with two bedrooms, and this would not change until one of the children reached the age of 16.

The tenant appealed against this decision on the grounds that this was discriminatory – if the children were of different genders, they would be entitled to a third bedroom as soon as one of them reached the age of 10. 

Unfortunately, this carried no weight with the three Court of Appeal judges, who quashed the Upper Tribunal judgement and concluded that ‘for the purposes of RSRS the term ‘bedroom’ applies to any room capable of being used as a bedroom by either a couple, an adult, a child, or two children of the same sex or aged under 10’.

Though the Court accepted that the bedrooms were very small, they were still only entitled to a two-bedroomed property. This reduced the housing benefit by £740 per year, £14.23 per week. Quite a substantial sum to find for a family with a limited income.

I said initially I had some sympathy for the tenants, but not enough to disagree with the Court of Appeal.

Had they asked the landlord of the family make-up of the previous tenants?

Had they tried to find out whether exceptions were made to the housing allowance rule on the basis of size? (I have seen some very small rooms where bunkbeds have managed to provide a sleeping area for 2 children).

Had they made any attempt to cover the shortfall in the lengthy period between moving in and the Court of Appeal hearing? If not, they now owed substantial arrears and probably enough for the landlord to evict.

These tenants had felt they had a legitimate reason for accepting a house which they knew was too small for their family. Unfortunately, they tried to beat the rules and lost. 

We do not know what advice the landlord had given them. Perhaps he had no idea they would be treated so harshly, perhaps agreeing with them that the bedrooms were too small for two. However, without knowing the full facts, I wonder whether this was one bedroom originally, with a wall erected to make it into a three-bedroomed house. Many landlords do this very successfully, but sometimes it will come back to bite you.

Look at your properties. Have you done this? Are the rooms that are left adequate for two people, if necessary? If they are, good. If not, and you get an excellent prospective tenant, consider removing the stud partition wall and bring it back to its’ original purpose.   

Otherwise, consider your prospective tenants very carefully. Discuss how the family will fit in and how the rent will be paid. Tenants should be aware of what the benefit legislation means for them, but so should landlords.

For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon