Awarding Discretionary Housing Payments
Regulations came into force on 2 July 2001. They granted local authorities power to pay discretionary amounts. This is to top up the Housing Benefit statutory scheme. The scheme covers shortfalls between rental liability and payment of Housing Benefit. This is if the claimant is unable to meet the shortfall themselves. A claimant entitled to the smallest amount of Housing Benefit who has a shortfall can make an application. The main features of the scheme are:
- it is discretionary. A claimant does not have a statutory right to a payment
- the Secretary of State cash-limits the amount paid out in any financial year
- the administration of the scheme is for the local authority to determine
Discretionary Housing Payment is not a payment of Housing Benefit. The minimum amount of Housing Benefit must be a payment in the benefit week awarded for.
Discretionary Housing Payment guidelines
The guidelines specify how we will operate the scheme. The guidelines show some factors for consideration when we decide if we can make a Discretionary Housing Payment. We will treat each case on its merits. We will treat all customers equally and fairly.
Statement of objectives
We will consider making a Discretionary Housing Payment to all claimants who meet the qualifying criteria. We treat each application on if merits through the operation of these guidelines to:
- reduce 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
The Discretionary Housing Payment scheme is a short term emergency fund. It is not to a way around any current or future entitlement restrictions. The restrictions are set out within the Housing Benefit legislation. In considering payment, we have regard to the amount of funding available from the Department for Work and Pensions.
Claiming a Discretionary Housing Payment
Complete the Discretionary Housing Payment form (PDF: 99Kb / 8 pages). You must make a claim for a Discretionary Housing Payment in writing. On request, or in appropriate circumstances, we will issue the claimant with a Discretionary Housing Payment application form. We will date-stamp this and it will count as the date of claim. The claimant must return the form to us within one month of its issue. If the claimant is unable to, or does not provide the required evidence, we will still consider the application. We will take into account any other available evidence. This will include information 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
We will decide the length of time for which we will award a Discretionary Housing Payment. We make our decision on the basis of the evidence supplied and the facts known. The start date of an award is:
- the Monday after we receive the written claim for a Discretionary Housing Payment; or
- the date on which entitlement to Housing Benefit commenced, providing we receive the application for Discretionary Housing Payment within one calendar month of us deciding the claim for Housing Benefit. That is, whichever is the earlier, or the most appropriate. We cannot award a Discretionary Housing Payment for any period outside an existing Housing Benefit period, as determined 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 award a Discretionary Housing Payment for a period exceeding 12 months.
We will consider any reasonable request for backdating an award, such consideration being limited to the current financial year. In some cases, we will make a lump sum payment. This is where the best way of helping someone in the longer term is to help with moving costs. This is 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 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. This includes ill health and disabilities of:
- the claimant
- their partner, and
- any dependants, or 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 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. This could be, the pressure on priority homeless accommodation; or any other special circumstances brought to our attention
We decide how much to award based on all 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 we will make a further award, this is 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
- Child Benefit
are not disregarded. We will allow any extra expenditure incurred due to illness, disability, care costs, higher travel and food costs.
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. 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. It may take longer at busy times. Where the application is unsuccessful, we will set out the reasons why we made this decision. We will 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 we will pay the award
- the requirement to report a change in circumstances
The right to seek a review
Discretionary Housing Payments are not payments of Housing Benefit. They are 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 Assistant Director Finance. This must be within one calendar month of the written decision being issued to the claimant. The Assistant Director Finance will review all the evidence held. He 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. It will set out the reasons for the decision. If the claimant is still not satisfied, they will be entitled to a further review. This is providing it is delivered in writing within one calendar month of the date on the decision letter. This review will be carried out by the Human Resources and Appeals Committee (the Committee). The decision made by the Committee will be notified in writing to both the Assistant Director Finance and the claimant. Their decision will be final and binding. It may only be challenged via the judicial review process, or by complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman. In exceptional circumstances, the above time periods for review may be extended. The Assistant Director Finance or Committee may not recommend a reduction in an award already notified.
We will seek to recover any Discretionary Housing Payment found to be overpaid. An invoice will be sent 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. The exception is if the claimant requests this method of recovery. They must do this in writing. The decision letter notifying that there is an overpayment will set out the right of review.
We will publicise the scheme. We will work with all interested parties to achieve this. A copy of these guidelines will be made available for inspection. They will be posted on our website. Information about the amount spent will not normally be made available. The exception is at the end of the financial year.
We are committed to the fight against fraud. 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 fraud may have occurred, the matter will be investigated. This may lead to criminal proceedings being instigated.