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CEP discussion paper

The bedroom tax


Housing subsidies for low income households are a central pillar of many welfare systems, but an expensive one. This paper investigates the consequences of an unusual policy aimed at reducing the burden of these subsidies by rationing tenants’ use of space. Specifically, we study a policy introduced by the UK Government in 2013 which substantially cut housing benefits for tenants deemed to have a ‘spare’ bedroom – based on specific criteria related to household composition. Our study is the first to evaluate the impacts of the policy on its target group considering a range of outcomes. To do so, we use a difference-in-difference methodology that compares the observed behaviour of the treated households relative to a control group determined from the details of the policy rules. We find that – as expected – the treated group experienced losses to housing benefit and overall income. Although the policy was not successful in encouraging residential moves, it did incentivise people who moved to downsize – suggesting some success in terms of one of the policy goals, namely reducing ‘under-occupancy’ in the long run. We find no statistically significant effects on households’ food consumption, savings or employment outcomes, despite the associated income reductions. Finally, we find some evidence of a reduction in self-reported satisfaction though this effect is not precisely estimated.


Stephen Gibbons, Olmo Silva and Maria Sánchez-Vidal

6 April 2018     Paper Number CEPDP1537

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This CEP discussion paper is published under the centre's Urban programme.