The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has brought about further change in order to support those who become homeless as a result of fleeing abuse. New regulations come into effect on 1st October 2021 that remove the under occupation charge or “bedroom tax” where the accommodation concerned is designated to support the victims of domestic abuse.
The under occupation charge was brought in as a measure of austerity and to encourage more mobility within the social housing sector by incentivising those with homes larger than they needed, to downsize. For example, the amount of rent that can be rebated by benefit is limited if there is a spare room, requiring the person in the accommodation to make up the shortfall each week. This is 14% of the rent for one spare bedroom and 25% of the rent for two spare bedrooms or more.
The change brought about by the Domestic Abuse Act is needed as accommodation provided to those fleeing abuse ought to be allocated on a safety first basis rather than on affordability. The context of this is that accommodation provided by local authorities must be affordable. If there is spare room that attracts the under occupation charge, then the accommodation will generally not be affordable and the person fleeing abuse could end up being denied a safe place to live. The change is a positive step and may well open up the accommodation options to those fleeing abuse.
The specific types of accommodation that will be exempt from the under occupation charge are:
- refuge accommodation;
- accommodation which is part of a sanctuary scheme: this is a scheme that enables victims of domestic abuse to remain in their own homes through the installation of additional security to the property or the perimeter of the property at which the victim resides;
- specialist safe accommodation: this is accommodation that provides dedicated specialist domestic abuse support to victims of domestic abuse who share relevant protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 or who share one or more vulnerabilities requiring additional support; for example, an all-female facility for those with a disability;
- dispersed accommodation: this is usually self-contained accommodation provided to a victim of domestic abuse with a similar level of domestic abuse support to that provided in refuge accommodation;
- second stage/move on accommodation: this is accommodation provided to a person who is moving on from one of the other forms of accommodation above for a fixed period to obtain the support to go on and live independently in mainstream accommodation; or
- other accommodation designated by the local housing authority, private registered provider of social housing or registered charity as domestic abuse emergency accommodation.
It specifically excludes a bed and breakfast, which for this purpose is defined as accommodation that is not separate or self-contained accommodation and shared either a toilet, personal washing or cooking facilities with another household.