When is a bedroom not a bedroom?

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This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, in fact I don’t think you would be too surprised to find something in a Xmas cracker next week.

Unfortunately, it is a serious question and one asked increasingly by the government.

In recent years the reason for questioning the use of rooms has been to determine if the ‘under-occupation penalty’ or ‘bedroom tax’ is due in a social housing.

This of course is not an issue in the private rented sector; the Local Housing Allowance has been based on ‘need’ for a number of years, meaning that under-occupation (at the expense of the public purse) should not be an issue.

However, there are now other reasons why the private sector should care what is, and is not, to be considered a bedroom.

So what is a bedroom then?

Odd as it may seem, there is no statutory definition of ‘bedroom’ in the UK. For the purposes of the ‘bedroom tax’ it has been suggested that a bedroom could be any room into which ‘at least a small single bed will fit”. Likewise the Valuation Office Agency Rent Officer’s handbook gives the following advice:

“The simple test to apply is, for this type and size of property in this or a similar area, how has the property been let, and how do occupants use the accommodation? The size of the room is irrelevant. A room that would never be thought of as a bedroom or living room in a large country house might well be perfectly acceptable to most people, for those same uses, in an expensive, densely populated city.”

So, bedrooms can be pretty much any room that you can put a bed in and use for sleeping?

Not anymore, at least not if you let an HMO.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has recently consulted on proposals to introduce a minimum room size for bedrooms in licensed HMOs.

The proposals, which are quite likely to become law next year, prescribe that a room should not be smaller than 6.52 square metres if occupied by one person or 10.23 square metres is occupied by two – irrespective of age.

So, size really does matter then?

It’s all about how you use it.

Rooms smaller than these minimum sizes will not be permitted to be used as permanent sleeping accommodation in licensed HMOs, but could serve other purposes such as storage or general living space, and allowing occasional use by guests will still be permitted.

Landlords found to have permitted long-term occupation of such rooms will be in breach of their licensing conditions and liable for substantial financial penalties.

As part of a broader package of HMO licensing reforms, it is likely that the minimum sizes will apply to almost 500,000 properties in England – potentially removing many thousands of previously cheaper rooms from the market.

What’s the problem? 6.52 sq. m sounds pretty small

It is, and that it part of the problem in its self. UKALA is concerned that the introduction of statutory minimum sizes will see a race to the bottom as developers and landlords in high demand areas design new property and refurbishment projects around the minimum permitted floor space.

The bigger problem (if you’ll excuse the phrase) is that the minimum standards are arbitrary and fail to take into account the individual features and circumstances of particular properties. 6.52 sq m is a small bedroom, but can be perfectly usable, indeed a marginally smaller space which is intelligently designed can seem spacious. At the same time a larger room of unconventional design can be much less functional and far more difficult to use as sleeping accommodation.

There is a need to make sure that vulnerable tenants are not exploited, and forced to accept overcrowded accommodation. However, housing is incredibly varied in design and needs to be assessed based on broader criteria than simply floor space. Local authorities already do this, and arguably could do a better job given the opportunity – without the need for a blanket ban on small spaces and the removal of needed rooms from the market.

 

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