Regulations were introduced on 2 July 2001 which granted all Local Authorities powers to pay discretionary amounts to top up the Housing and Council Tax Benefits statutory schemes. The legislation governing DHP can be found in the Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001 (SI 2001 / 1167). There are two separate DHP schemes, one covering shortfalls between rental liability and payment of Housing Benefit and one covering shortfalls between Council Tax liability and entitlement to Council Tax Benefit. Every claimant who is entitled to the minimum amount of Housing and / or Council Tax Benefit and who has such a shortfall is entitled to make a claim for help. The main features of the schemes are that:
- the schemes are purely discretionary; a claimant does not have a statutory right to a payment;
- the amount that can be paid out by an Authority in any financial year is cash-limited by the Secretary of State;
- the administration of the scheme is for the Local Authority to determine (with a few specific exceptions);
DHP are not a payment of Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit. However, the minimum amount of HB / CTB must be in payment in the benefit week that a DHP is awarded for.
The purpose of these guidelines is to specify how Eden District Council will operate the scheme and to indicate some of the factors that will be considered when deciding if a DHP can be made. Each case will be treated strictly on its merits and all customers will be treated equally and fairly when the scheme is administered.
Statement of objectives
The Council will consider making a payment of a DHP to all claimants who meet the qualifying criteria as specified in these guidelines. The Council will treat all applications on their individual merits, and will seek through the operation of these guidelines to:
- alleviate poverty;
- support vulnerable young people in the transition to adult life;
- safeguard Eden residents in their homes;
- help those who are trying to help themselves;
- keep families together;
- support the vulnerable in the local community; help claimants through personal crises and difficult events.
The Council considers that the DHP scheme should be seen as a short time emergency fund. It is not and should not be considered as a way around any current or future entitlement restrictions set out within the Housing and Council Tax Benefit legislation.
In considering payment of DHP the Council will have regard to the amount of funding available to it from the Department for Works and Pensions. DHP will not usually be awarded if DWP funding is not available.
Claiming a DHP
A claim for a DHP must be made in writing and signed by the claimant.
On request or in appropriate circumstances, the Council will issue the claimant with a special DHP application form or alternatively print and complete Discretionary Housing Payments: Rent and or Council Tax (PDF: 25Kb / 4 pages) .This will be date stamped and will count as the date of claim. The claimant will be required to return the form to the Council within one month of its issue and will be encouraged to include any relevant supporting evidence.
A Council Officer will then either contact the applicant by telephone or some cases visit their home.
The Council may request any (reasonable) evidence in support of an application for a DHP. The claimant will be asked to provide the evidence at the visit or within one month of such a request although this will be extended in appropriate circumstances.
If the claimant is unable to, or does not provide the required evidence, the Council will still consider the application and will in any event take into account any other available evidence including that held on the Housing Benefit file.
The Council reserves the right to verify any information or evidence provided by the claimant in appropriate circumstances.
Period of award
In all cases, the Council will decide the length of time for which a DHP will be awarded on the basis of the evidence supplied and the facts known.
The start date of an award will normally be:
- the Monday after the written claim for a DHP is received by the Council; or
- the date on which entitlement to HB/CTB commenced (providing the application for DHP is received within one calendar month of the claim for HB/CTB being decided) whichever is the earlier, or the most appropriate. The Council cannot award a DHP for any period outside an existing HB/CTB benefit period granted under the HB/CTB statutory scheme.
The minimum period for which we will award a DHP is one week.
We will usually award a DHP for not less than 13 weeks.
We will not normally award a DHP for a period exceeding 12 months.
We will consider any reasonable request for backdating an award of a DHP but such consideration will usually be limited to the current financial year.
Awarding a DHP
In deciding whether to award a DHP, the Council will take into account:
- the shortfall between Housing and Council Tax Benefit and the liability;
- any steps taken by the claimant to reduce their rental or Council Tax liability;
- the financial and medical circumstances (including ill health and disabilities) of the claimant, their partner and any dependants and any other occupants of the claimant's home;
- the income and expenditure of the claimant, their partner and any dependants or other occupants of the claimant's home;
- any savings or capital that might be held by the claimant or their family;
- the level of indebtedness of the claimant and their family;
- the exceptional nature of the claimant's and their family's circumstances;
- the amount available in the DHP budget at the time of the application;
- the possible impact on the Council of not making such an award, e.g. the pressure on priority homeless accommodation; any other special circumstances brought to the attention of the Council.
We will decide how much to award based on all of the circumstances. This may be an amount below the difference between the liability and the payment of Housing Benefit and / or Council Tax Benefit. 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.
Changes of Circumstances
We may need to revise an award of a DHP where the claimant's circumstances have materially changed.
Method of Payment
We will decide the most appropriate person to pay based upon the circumstances of each case.
This could include paying:
- the claimant;
- the claimant's partner;
- an appointee;
- the claimant's landlord (or an agent of the landlord); or
- any third party to whom it might be most appropriate to make payment.
We will pay an award of DHP by the most appropriate means available in each case. This could include payment:
- by electronic transfer (e.g. BACS)
- by crediting the claimant's Council Tax and / or rent accounts;
Payments will normally at the same time as Housing Benefit and / or Council Tax Benefit are paid.
We will inform the claimant in writing of the outcome of their application within 28 days of receipt. Where the application is unsuccessful, the Council will set out the reasons why this decision was made and explain the right of review. Where the application is successful, the Council will advise:
- the weekly amount of DHP awarded;
- whether it is paid in advance or in arrears;
- the period of the award;
- how, when and to whom the award will be paid
- the requirement to report a change in circumstances;
The right to seek a review
DHP are not payments of Housing or Council Tax Benefits and are therefore not subject to the statutory appeals mechanism. All Councils are expected to set up an appropriate review process.
We will operate the following policy for dealing with appeals about a refusal to award a DHP, a decision to award a reduced amount of DHP, a decision not to backdate a DHP or a decision that there has been an overpayment of a DHP.
A claimant (or their appointee or agent) who disagrees with a DHP decision may dispute the decision. A request for a review shall be delivered in writing to the Director of Finance within one calendar month of the written decision about the DHP being issued to the claimant.
The Director of Finance will review all the evidence held and may ask for further information to be provided. A decision will be made within 28 days of the request for a review or receipt of additional information. The decision will be notified to the claimant in writing, setting out the reasons for the decision.
Where the claimant is still not satisfied, they will be entitled to a further review, provided this is delivered in writing within one calendar month of the date on the decision letter sent by the Director of Finance. This review will be carried out by the Human Resources and Appeals Committee. The decision made by the Human Resources and Appeals Committee will be notified in writing to both the Director of Finance and to the claimant. Their decision will be final and binding and may only be challenged via the judicial review process or by complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman. In exceptional circumstances only, all of the above time periods for review may be extended by the Director of Finance or the Human Resources and Appeals Committee as appropriate.
Unless a change in circumstances has occurred, the Director of Finance or the Human Resources and Appeals Committee may not recommend a reduction in an award already notified.
We will seek to recover any DHP found to be overpaid. Normally this will involve issuing an invoice to the claimant or the person to whom the award was paid. Under no circumstances will recovery be made from any amounts of Housing and / or Council Tax Benefit due to the claimant (except if the claimant requests this method of recovery specifically in writing). The decision letter that notifies a decision that there is an overpayment will also set out the right of review.
We will publicise the scheme and will work with all interested parties to achieve this. A copy of these guidelines will be made available for inspection and will be posted on the Eden web site. Information about the amount spent will not normally be made available except at the end of the financial year.
We are committed to the fight against fraud in all its forms. A claimant who tries to fraudulently claim a DHP by falsely declaring their circumstances, providing a false statement or evidence in support of their application, may have committed an offence under the Theft Act 1968. Where we suspect that such a fraud may have occurred, the matter will be investigated as appropriate and this may lead to criminal proceedings being instigated.
For further information:
Contact: Benefit Team Leader, Town Hall, Penrith CA11 7QF
Telephone: 01768 212131
Fax: 01768 890470