Awarding Discretionary Housing Payments
Regulations were introduced on 2 July 2001 which granted all local authorities power to pay discretionary amounts to top up the Housing Benefit statutory scheme. The scheme covers shortfalls between rental liability and payment of Housing Benefit where the customer is financially unable to meet the shortfall themselves out of other income. Every claimant who is entitled to the minimum amount of Housing Benefit, and who has such a shortfall, is entitled to make an application for help. The main features of the scheme are:
- it is 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)
Discretionary Housing Payment is not a payment of Housing Benefit. However, the minimum amount of Housing Benefit must be in payment in the benefit week that a Discretionary Housing Payment is awarded for.
Discretionary Housing Payment Guidelines
The purpose of these guidelines is to specify how we will operate the scheme and to indicate some of the factors that will be considered when deciding if a Discretionary Housing Payment 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
We will consider making a Discretionary Housing Payment to all claimants who meet the qualifying criteria as specified in these guidelines. We 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
- support those affected by the changes made through the Welfare Reform Act
- help customers with the financial costs of moving to a more affordable and sustainable home. This includes help with removal costs, a deposit. and rent in advance
We consider that the Discretionary Housing Payment scheme should be seen as a short term 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 Benefit legislation. In considering payment of a Discretionary Housing Payment, we will have regard to the amount of funding available to it from the Department for Work and Pensions.
Claiming a Discretionary Housing Payment
A claim for a Discretionary Housing Payment must be made in writing and signed by the claimant. On request, or in appropriate circumstances, we will issue the claimant with a Discretionary Housing Payment application form, or alternatively, print and complete the Discretionary Housing Payment form (PDF: 99Kb / 8 pages). This will be date-stamped and will count as the date of claim. The claimant will be required to return the form to us within one month of its issue and will be encouraged to include any relevant supporting evidence.
We may request any (reasonable) evidence in support of an application for a Discretionary Housing Payment. The claimant will be asked to provide the evidence 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, we 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. We reserve the right to verify any information or evidence provided by the claimant in appropriate circumstances.
Period of award
In all cases we will decide the length of time for which a Discretionary Housing Payment 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 Discretionary Housing Payment is received by us; or
- the date on which entitlement to Housing Benefit commenced (providing the application for Discretionary Housing Payment is received within one calendar month of the claim for Housing Benefit being decided) whichever is the earlier, or the most appropriate. We cannot award a Discretionary Housing Payment for any period outside an existing Housing Benefit period granted under the Housing Benefit statutory scheme.
The minimum period for which we will award a Discretionary Housing Payment is one week. We will usually award a Discretionary Housing Payment for not less than 13 weeks. We will not normally award a Discretionary Housing Payment for a period exceeding 12 months.
We will consider any reasonable request for backdating an award of a Discretionary Housing Payment, but such consideration will usually be limited to the current financial year. In some cases, a lump sum payment will be made. This will be where it is decided that the best way of helping someone in the longer term is to help them with moving costs to allow them to move into an affordable and sustainable property.
Awarding a Discretionary Housing Payment
In deciding whether to award a Discretionary Housing Payment, we will take into account:
- the shortfall between Housing Benefit and the liability
- any steps taken by the claimant to reduce their rental 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 Discretionary Housing Payment budget at the time of the application
- the possible impact on us of not making such an award, for example, the pressure on priority homeless accommodation; or any other special circumstances brought to our attention
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. An award of a Discretionary Housing Payment does not guarantee that a further award will be made at a later date, even if the claimant's circumstances have not changed.
Income and expenditure
When we assess the claimant's financial circumstances, all income is taken into account in the calculation. Benefits, such as Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payments, Attendance Allowance, and Child Benefit are not disregarded. However, in these cases, we will allow any extra expenditure incurred due to illness and disability, for example, care costs, higher travel and food costs and so on.
Change of circumstances
We may need to revise an award of a Discretionary Housing Payment 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 Discretionary Housing Payment by the most appropriate means available in each case. Payments will normally be at the same time as Housing Benefit is paid. Payments to a payee other than the person who receives the Housing Benefit payment will be made by BACS.
We aim to inform the claimant in writing of the outcome of their application within 28 days of receipt. However, it may take longer at busy times. Where the application is unsuccessful, we will set out the reasons why this decision was made and explain the right of review. Where the application is successful, we will advise:
- the weekly amount of Discretionary Housing Payment 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
Discretionary Housing Payments are not payments of Housing Benefit and are, therefore, not subject to the statutory appeals mechanism. We will operate the following policy for dealing with appeals about a refusal to award a Discretionary Housing Payment, a decision to award a reduced amount of Discretionary Housing Payment, a decision not to backdate a Discretionary Housing Payment, or a decision that there has been an overpayment of a Discretionary Housing Payment.
A claimant (or their appointee or agent) who disagrees with a Discretionary Housing Payment 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 Discretionary Housing Payment 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 Discretionary Housing Payment found to be overpaid. Normally this will involve issuing an invoice to the claimant, or the person to whom the award was paid. Recovery will not be made from any amounts of Housing 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 posted on our website. 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 Discretionary Housing Payment 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.