WEALDEN DISTRICT COUNCIL
Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) Policy 2022-2023
- The Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) scheme began in July 2001 under provisions contained in The Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001. These give local authorities the power to award discretionary payments to people in receipt of a qualifying social security benefit to provide additional financial help towards housing costs. DHP can also be used to provide assistance with a deposit or rent in advance for a prospective new property, and other lump sum costs associated with moving such as removal fees.
- From April 2013 DHP can no longer be awarded to assist with payment of Council Tax. The main features of the scheme are;
- DHP are discretionary – there is no statutory right to a payment;
- The amount that can be paid by a local authority in any one year is cash-limited by the Government. The Council may not exceed this limit;
- The customer must be entitled to Housing Benefit or Universal Credit that includes a housing element towards rental liability to be eligible to claim DHP.
- The scheme is intended to also enable local authorities to provide some help for customers affected by the Welfare Reforms, specifically;
- The benefit cap;
- Reductions due to the removal of the spare room subsidy (RSRS);
- Reductions in the Local Housing Allowance.
- Universal Credit
- DHP cannot be paid to cover;
- Ineligible service charges (for example water charges included in rent charged);
- Increases in rent due to outstanding rent arrears;
- Certain sanctions and reductions in some state benefits.
- The following policy has been developed in line with Government best practice guidance. It sets out the administrative arrangements for dealing with DHP claims and provides general guidance on the factors that will be taken into account when deciding claims. Each case will be treated strictly on its merits and all customers will be treated equally and fairly.
- The policy is intended to support the Council’s overall corporate objectives and to;
- Help alleviate poverty;
- Prevent homelessness and support people to keep their tenancies;
- Support vulnerable groups in the community;
- Help customers through personal and difficult events.
- The principles of the scheme are;
- Discretionary housing payments are not payments of Housing benefit
- There must be entitlement to the minimum amount of Housing benefit or Universal Credit including the Housing element for rental costs for any period that Discretionary Housing payment is awarded
- It is discretionary and there is no statutory right to a payment
- The support should be seen as short term however in exceptional circumstances it can be used to provide longer term support
- The amount that can be paid by Wealden District Council in any financial year is cash-limited by the Secretary of State and maybe reduced or increased in subsequent years.
- Responsibility for day to day operation of the policy will lie with the Benefits Service. We will work with the Council’s Housing Service and the Housing Options team in particular to ensure customers can be helped and supported. We will liaise with local Citizens Advice Bureau and other advice agencies to promote the scheme. All benefit and front line staff, including the housing and council tax teams and staff in the Contact Centre, will be aware of the scheme and be able to give advice on claiming it.
Making a claim
- In order that all claims are treated equally all customers who wish to apply for a DHP will be required to either complete an online claim form , or in paper form by contacting the Service.
If a customer has problems completing a claim form, whether online or by paper form, advice will be normally be given over the phone. A council officer may arrange to visit the customer at home to provide assistance when appropriate to do so. Customers may be referred to the local Citizens Advice Bureau or other voluntary organisations for help with completing the form.
- Claims should normally be made by the person in receipt of the qualifying benefit. However, claims can be accepted from an appointee or other person requested to act by the customer on their behalf. The process for making a claim is as follows;
- An initial application for DHP should be made in writing, either on-line, by email, or via the DHP claim form;
- The claim form must be returned to the Council within one month of issue;
- The claim must include details of income, expenditure, assets and the circumstances that require a DHP;
- If further information is required we will try and contact the customer by phone. If this is not possible a letter or email will sent setting out the information requested;
- If, after 14 days, the information has not been received, we will contact the customer giving them a further 14 days to provide the information;
- If the customer still does not provide the information or contact us to explain why there is a delay, the application for DHP will be treated as withdrawn.
- Before making a payment Wealden District Council need to be satisfied that the customer is;
- entitled to Housing benefit or;
- entitled to Universal Credit that includes housing costs towards rental liability, and;
- in need of further financial assistance with housing costs.
- A customer who is receiving the local Council Tax Support only is not eligible for a DHP award.
- DHP’s are intended to provide further financial assistance towards housing costs. Housing costs can include;
- Rental liability;
- Rent in advance;
- Deposits; and
- Other lump sum costs, for example, removal costs.
- There is no definition of the phrase ‘further financial assistance’ in law. To claim DHP the customer will need to demonstrate that they are unable to meet housing costs from their available income or that they have a shortfall as a result of the welfare reforms. The types of shortfalls can include:
- where the benefit cap has been applied;
- the removal of spare room subsidy in the social rented sector;
- as a result of local housing allowance restrictions;
- rent officer restrictions such as local reference rent or shared room rate;
- non-dependant deductions or housing cost contributions;
- rent shortfalls to prevent a household becoming homeless whilst the housing authority explores alternative options;
- reductions due to income tapers.
- Any other policy change that limits the amount of HB payable, for example the removal of the family premium.
- Temporary accommodation is also a consideration. DWP circular A2/2018 states the amendments to the Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulation 2001.
- From the 11 April 2018, the Housing element of Universal Credit is not available to customers making new claims for their housing costs, whilst living in temporary accommodation. These customers will now claim Housing benefit for support with these costs, while receiving the personal element of Universal Credit, in the same manner that exists with specified accommodation.
- If a customer experiences a gap in the provision for their housing costs as they move into temporary accommodation and are required to make a new claim for Housing benefit, Discretionary Housing payment can be considered, if appropriate.
- This list is not exhaustive
- The following factors will be taken into account when considering whether the customer is in need of further financial assistance;
- The extent of any shortfall between the Housing benefit award/Universal Credit Housing Element and rental liability;
- Any steps taken by the customer to reduce their rental liability;
- The income and expenditure of the customer, their partner and any dependants or other occupants of the customer’s home;
- Any savings or capital held by the customer or their family;
- The financial, medical, caring and educational circumstances of the customer, their partner and any other occupants of the customer’s home;
- Whether the customer or any member of their family is at risk due to domestic violence;
- The risk of eviction because of the shortfall and whether the landlord would accept a reduced rent payment;
- Whether the customer could reduce other outgoings and thus alleviate the hardship themselves;
- Whether the customer has made every effort to maximise their benefit income;
- The possible impact of not awarding a DHP, for example, loss of employment;
- Any other special circumstances the customer brings to our attention.
- The amount available in the DHP budget (the Council’s overall cash limit is determined by the Government)
- This list is not exhaustive. The Council will take into account any information the customer provides which will enable us to understand their particular circumstances. In addition, if the claim for DHP is to help with a deposit or rent in advance we will also consider whether;
- the property is affordable for the tenant;
- the tenant has a valid reason to move;
- the deposit or rent in advance is reasonable.
- The customer’s spending pattern will be considered to see whether it would be practical for them to reduce their spending. It may be reasonable to expect a customer to reduce expenditure on non-essential items (e.g. satellite television, entertainment costs). However, the customer should not be expected to reduce expenditure on essentials (e.g. food and fuel) unless the expenditure in these areas is unreasonably high.
- If a customer is struggling financially or has high levels of debt, we will advise them to contact the local Citizens Advice Bureau, the East Sussex Advice Line or other agencies, if they have not already done so, for budgeting and debt advice.
- Disability Living Allowance (care and mobility), and likewise the same rates for Personal Independence Payments will not be taken into account as income when calculating DHP.
- If DHP is claimed because of a restriction by the Valuation Office Agency on the amount of rent that can be taken into account in the customer’s housing benefit claim, the customer will be advised to make an appeal against that decision if we believe it to be incorrect. In some instances, we will request a substitute decision from the Valuation Office Agency directly.
- We would not normally award DHP in cases where the need for financial assistance arises because of;
- Significant overcharging by a landlord;
- Failure of non-dependants to make a contribution towards housing costs where they have the means to do so;
- Claimed inadequacy of disability benefits to cover the costs of disability;
- Unwillingness of the customer to use other available resources or apply for other forms of assistance;
- A move from social housing to unaffordable private housing.
- DHP cannot be paid towards the costs of the following;
- Ineligible service charges (e.g. heating, water, sewage);
- Support charges;
- Rent liability if the customer is only entitled to Council Tax Reduction;
- Council Tax liability;
- Increases in rent to cover arrears of rent, service charges or other unpaid charges;
- Reductions in benefit due to some sanctions.
Decision making and payment
- There will be no restriction on the number of people who can claim DHP. However, it must be noted that the available annual budget is cash-limited by the Government.
- All applications for DHP will be considered by a senior member of the Benefit Team;
- All decisions will be made, where possible, within one month of receiving the application and any supporting evidence;
- In order for a DHP application to be considered there must be;
- a shortfall between the weekly benefit payable and the weekly eligible rent, or;
- there is no weekly shortfall but a one off payment is to be considered, for example, towards moving costs.
- entitlement to Housing Benefit or Universal Credit that includes a housing element towards rental liability (this includes extended payments of benefit for people starting work);
- If the shortfall is so high that only an unreasonable level of payment would alleviate the financial hardship, then we will consider other avenues such as referring the customer to advice agencies as well as considering making a limited award.
- In deciding what constitutes ‘unreasonable’ we will take account of the specific circumstances of each case, whether an award of DHP would allow the retention of the accommodation or whether eviction would be likely anyway, whether the customer has pursued all other options, and the remaining DHP budget
- Awards of DHP will usually be at a weekly amount for a fixed period unless a one off payment is granted. The period of award will be decided according to the particular circumstances of each case but will not normally exceed 12 months. Awards of weekly payments will normally commence from the first Monday following the date of the first written claim for DHP, or the date on which entitlement to Universal Credit commenced (providing the application for DHP is received within one calendar month of the claim being decided).
- Where a customer is in receipt of Universal Credit, the maximum DHP award that can be made is established by looking at their Universal Credit award notification, which will identify Housing costs. This is the same as the maximum DHP that can be made when calculating as a monthly award.
- Any payment will usually be made to the person who made the claim. In the case of a person receiving rent rebate, the payment will be credited to their rent account. DHP may be paid to someone other than the customer, such as their agent, an appointee or a landlord where appropriate.
- Any reasonable request for backdating of a claim will be considered with the decision based on the circumstances of the claim and bearing in mind the duty to act consistently. Any backdating would normally be restricted to the current financial year.
- When the award of DHP comes to an end, the customer can reapply for DHP and their circumstances will be considered again. There is no guarantee that DHP will be awarded again.
- Decisions on the claim will be notified in writing and set out the reason for the decision. Wealden District Council will notify the customer the outcome of their request in writing within 28 days. Where successful the customer will be informed of;
- The weekly amount,
- The period of the award,
- The reason for the award,
- The method of payment,
- Conditionality’s where appropriate (i.e. required to undertake certain activities),
- The need to report changes in circumstances.
Where unsuccessful an explanation for the decision will be given to the customer, together with notification of their rights for a further review.
Change of Circumstances
- The customer (or, where relevant, their representative) must inform the Council of any changes in their circumstances that may affect the award of DHP.
Requests for review
- DHP are not payments of state benefits, therefore there is no right of appeal through the statutory appeals system. However, if the customer is dissatisfied with the decision made they can request a review. Such requests must be made in writing within one month of the date of the decision letter and may include any additional information the customer wishes to be considered. The review will be considered normally within 14 days of receipt of the request, and their decision will be notified in writing. If the customer remains dissatisfied with the outcome of the review they may complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.
- Overpayments of DHP will be notified to the customer by letter and usually will be recovered unless they are as a result of a mistake by the Council and the customer could not have known they were being paid in error. Decisions about recovery will be decided on the merits of each case taking account of the level of debt and any hardship that might arise.
- Any overpayments of DHP cannot be recovered by deductions from weekly Housing Benefit or Universal Credit awards. Instead an invoice will be sent to the customer requesting repayment of any recoverable overpayment. If the overpayment arises as a result of a change in circumstances but the customer remains entitled to a lower amount of DHP any overpayment may be offset against the revised award.
- The Council is committed to detecting and preventing fraud. Any claim made for DHP that is based on falsely stated circumstances or false evidence will be investigated and may lead to criminal proceedings.
Monitoring spend against budget
- The Council complies with the Department for Work and Pensions reporting arrangements for DHP. Regular returns are made by the Council to report on the annual expenditure. This information will be made available through the Council’s website.
Review of Policy
- This policy will be reviewed annually and published on the Council’s website and further information about DHP is available on the government website.