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Discretionary Housing Payments Policy

1) Introduction

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) provide additional financial assistance to people who are already in receipt of Housing Benefit (HB) or the housing element of Universal Credit (UC).

DHP’s are not classed as payments of benefit. They are standalone payments and the awards are made entirely at the discretion of the Council, subject to a limited budget set by the Government.

The Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001 (as amended) regulate the administration of the DHP scheme and they set out the basic requirements that must be met before an award can be made. However, thereafter they allow an authority wide discretion on the operation of the scheme, including how to claim, information requirements and the recovery of overpayments.

In addition to the regulations, The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has issued guidance on the operation of the scheme.

A DHP can be claimed by every claimant who has:

  • An entitlement to Housing Benefit, or
  • An entitlement to the housing element of Universal Credit
  • There is a shortfall between their rental liability and the amount of HB or housing element of UC, and
  • They require additional financial help

A DHP may be awarded to meet a shortfall in rent for any of the following reasons:

  • Any reduction in HB or UC where the benefit cap has been applied
  • Any reduction in HB or UC for under-occupation in the social rented sector
  • Any reduction in HB or UC as a result of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) restrictions
  • Any rent shortfall to prevent a household becoming homeless whilst the Housing department explores alternative options
  • Any reduction due to Rent Officer restrictions, such as local reference rent or shared room rate under LHA
  • Any reduction in benefit due to non-dependant deductions
  • Any reduction in benefit due to the application of income tapers

A DHP may also be paid to help meet the following provided the customer is in receipt of HB or the housing element of UC at their current address:

  • Removal costs, and
  • Rent deposits

The above lists are indicative and not definitive. Payments are purely discretionary and nobody has the statutory right to receive a DHP.

A DHP cannot be used for:

  • Ineligible service charges included in the rent (such as water charges or meals)
  • A reduction in a benefit award following a sanction being imposed as a result of fraud
  • An increase in rent liability due to rent arrears
  • Rent because of the suspension of benefit payments
  • A period for which there was no entitlement to HB or UC
  • Any shortfall due to an ongoing HB overpayment recovery

Following the abolition of Council Tax Benefit from April 2013, DHP’s can no longer be made towards Council Tax liabilities. However, help may be available from the Council via its Local Council Tax Support Exceptional Hardship Fund.

The main features of the Council’s DHP scheme are:

It is solely discretionary

  • A claimant does not have a statutory right to a payment
  • The amount the Council can pay out in any financial year is cash limited by the Secretary of State
  • The administration of the scheme is for the Revenues & Benefits service to determine

As part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The Government’s policy is to reduce HB expenditure. It is implementing this by:

  • Reducing benefit paid in the private sector due to changes in the LHA
  • Reducing benefit paid in the Social Rented sector through the under occupation rules
  • Reducing benefit paid where the overall benefit payments exceed the cap set by Central Government

This DHP policy is designed to support the Government’s policy whilst making sure the Council has a clear and concise process in place to protect vulnerable residents, sustain tenancies and prevent homelessness.

2) Purpose of the Council’s policy

The purpose of this policy is to specify how the scheme will operate and to indicate some of the factors that will be considered when deciding if a DHP award can be made.

Each claim will be considered on its own merits and there will be no blanket policy or exemptions. Every customer who claims will be treated fairly and equally.

3) Statement of objectives

A DHP payment will be considered for all claimants who meet the qualifying criteria specified in this policy. All applications will be considered on their individual merits and, throughout the operation of this policy, the Revenues & Benefits service will seek to:

  1. Alleviate poverty
  2. Support vulnerable young claimants in the transition to adult life by:
    1. paying additional housing costs for claimants coming out of care
    2. paying additional housing costs for those coming out of fostering care
  3. Support vulnerable claimants in general by payment of additional housing costs where the claimant resides in social sector accommodation and the Council is of the opinion that additional assistance is required to meet the shortfall in eligible rent (this could be due to the need to meet additional rooms for reasons of disability or caring)
  4. Assisting residents to obtain and sustain employment by enabling the payment of extended HB in appropriate cases
  5. Safeguard residents in their homes
  6. Support those escaping domestic violence or racial abuse
  7. Help those who are trying to help themselves
  8. Keep families together
  9. Help claimants through personal crises and life changing events
  10. Assist claimants in dealing with a reduction in their HB entitlement

The Revenues & Benefits service considers the DHP scheme should be viewed primarily as a short-term emergency fund. However, due to the changes in the welfare system there may be times when payment is awarded over a longer period of time. The scheme will not be considered as a way around any current or future entitlement restrictions resulting from the reforms.

4) Claiming a DHP

A claim can be made at anytime once a claimant has been notified of their entitlement to HB or the housing element of Universal Credit. It should be made to the Revenues & Benefits section by completing the Council’s application form. In certain circumstances an application may be accepted in an alternative format if all the necessary information is provided.

The Council may request further information or evidence that it considers relevant to support the claim. This may be made in the most appropriate way, for instance in person or by telephone, but it will always need be confirmed in writing.

A month will always be allowed for a reply to be provided, however, this time limit may be extended in appropriate circumstances.If a reply is not received, for whatever reason, the application will be considered based on all the information available. In certain circumstances it may be appropriate to interview the claimant.

5) Considering the application

All claims will be considered by a suitably trained member of staff in the Revenues & Benefits section. The following is not an exhaustive list but it indicates elements that will be considered in the assessment of a DHP application:

  • The correct amount of HB is in payment
  • All other benefits available have been claimed
  • The shortfall between HB or housing element of UC entitlement and rent liability
  • Any steps taken to reduce this liability
  • All appropriate discounts have been granted for their council tax liability
  • The financial circumstances of the claimant and their family, including the ability to afford the shortfall themselves or to move.
  • The claimant and their family’s income and expenditure and any changes that the Council can reasonably expect the claimant to make
  • Any savings or capital that the claimant or their family have
  • Any steps being taken to improve the claimant’s financial situation
  • The medical circumstances of the claimant and their family including adaptations that may have been carried out to the property or access to treatment or support.
  • The length of time the circumstances are expected to last
  • The prevention of homelessness and the Council’s homelessness strategy
  • The amount available in the DHP budget
  • Any other special circumstances that may exist

6) Period of award

In all cases, the Council will decide the length of time for which a DHP will be awarded. This will be based on the facts known and the evidence supplied.

The start date will usually be from the Monday immediately after the week in which a claim is made.  The Council will consider any reasonable request for backdating an award of a DHP but consideration will usually be limited to the current financial year.

Generally, the minimum period for which a DHP will be awarded is one week. The maximum period will not exceed a period of 12 months, at which point the claimant will be able to reapply.

An award cannot be granted for a period for which there is no entitlement to HB or the housing element of Universal Credit.

A DHP can only be awarded after the end of the first UC assessment period where the award includes a payment of housing cost element.

7) Awarding a DHP

The Council will decide how much DHP to award based on all of the circumstances. This may be an amount lower than the difference between the rent liability and the rate of HB or housing element of UC being paid.

An award of a DHP does not guarantee that a further award will be made at a later date, even if the claimant’s circumstances have not changed.

The Council reserves the right when awarding a DHP to advise claimants to seek alternative accommodation if, in its opinion, it is felt that the claimant’s current home is not appropriate for their needs. Any such recommendations will be considered should a further application for a DHP be received.

Generally, debts, arrears and fines will not be taken into account when assessing a claimant’s expenses.

The Council thinks that it is reasonable to look at the spending pattern of claimants to establish if hardship can be reduced. We do recognise that claimants should not be expected to reduce spending on essentials such as food or fuel, unless spending in these areas is considered unreasonably high.

The Council thinks it is reasonable to expect claimants to reduce their spending on non-essential items such as mobile phones, satellite television, broadband, cigarettes or social entertainment.

Certain expenses, such as additional Council Tax costs resulting from the Council’s new Local Council Tax Support scheme, will also be taken into consideration.

The Council will not refuse to award a DHP based on funding unless it is likely to exceed the Central Government contribution.

8) Changes in circumstances

In order to ensure a DHP continues to provide the necessary amount of support the Council may need to alter or end an award if a claimant’s circumstances change.

When payments are made to either claimants or landlords they are expected to report any change in circumstances that they might reasonably be expected to know may affect entitlement to a DHP. They will be informed of this requirement in all decision notices and they will be required to report the change within one month of it happening.

9) Method of payment

The Council will decide the most appropriate person to pay.  This will include:

  • To the claimant
  • To an appointee
  • To a landlord or agent

Payment will be made by:

  • BACS

The payment frequency will normally be made two weeks in arrears if paid to the claimant or 4 weeks in arrears if paid to the landlord. This is in line with how HB is currently paid.

10) Notification

The Council will aim to inform the claimant of its decision within 14 days of receipt of all the necessary information, or as soon as reasonably practicable thereafter.

The letter will include:

  • The weekly award
  • The period of the award
  • How often it will be paid and to whom
  • The requirement to report changes in circumstances

Where payments are to be made to a landlord or agent they will also be written to and informed of the same.

Where a claim is unsuccessful the Council will provide a full explanation of its reasons for turning the claim down together with details of how to seek a review.

The Council will also explain that awards are only intended to provide short term support and must not be relied upon for long-term help.  They will also offer contact details for budgeting and housing advice where appropriate.

11) Right to a review

Because DHP’s do not form part of the HB scheme they are not covered by the statutory appeal mechanism.  It is therefore necessary for the Council to provide an appropriate review process.

The Council will operate a consistent policy for dealing with requests to reconsider the following decisions:

  • A decision not to award a DHP
  • The amount awarded
  • The period of an award
  • A decision to recover an overpayment of a DHP

A request for a review must be made in writing by the claimant or their duly authorised representative.  It must contain the grounds on which the decision is disputed and should be received within one month of the claimant being notified of the decision. The Council will extend the time limit allowed up to a maximum of 3 months where it feels it is appropriate to do so.

A landlord or third party may only dispute a decision to recover an overpaid DHP from them.

The dispute will be considered within one month of being received.  A full review of the original decision will be carried out by the Senior Officer (Benefits).  Any new information or evidence provided will be taken into account.  They may decide that further information is needed.  If so, they will contact the claimant for this.  They may also decide that an interview is appropriate.

Once the review is complete a recommendation will be passed to the Revenues and Benefits Manager who will make a final decision.   

The claimant will be notified of the outcome of their dispute in writing.  This letter will contain a full explanation of the Council’s decision and the factors taken into account in coming to it.

The decision of the Revenues and Benefits Manager is final and may only be challenged by Judicial Review. If there is a allegation of maladministration then a complaint may be made to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

12) Overpayments

The Council reserves the right to recover any overpayment of DHP, unless it was caused by an error made by the Revenues & Benefits section.

Recovery will usually be sought from the person to whom payment was made through the issuing of an invoice.  Recovery of an overpayment will be linked with ability to pay but will not be recovered from Housing Benefit.

13) Publicity

The Council will actively publicise the DHP scheme and details will be included on the Council’s website.

The Council will work with all interested parties to achieve the publication and promotion of the DHP scheme and it will actively encourage claimants to apply where they think it is appropriate for them to do so.

14) Fraud

The Council is committed to detecting and preventing fraud in all forms.  Any person who is found to have falsely declared their circumstances or of providing a false statement in support of their claim for a DHP will have committed an offence under the Fraud Act 2006.

Any said case will be investigated and could lead to criminal proceedings.