Awarding Discretionary Housing Payments
Regulations were introduced 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 minimum amount of Housing Benefit who has a shortfall is entitled to make an application. 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 in any financial year is cash-limited by the Secretary of State
- the administration of the scheme is for the local authority to determine. There are with a few specific exceptions.
Discretionary Housing Payment is not a payment of Housing Benefit. The minimum amount of Housing Benefit must be payment in the benefit week that a is awarded for.
Discretionary Housing Payment guidelines
The guidelines specify how we will operate the scheme. The guidelines indicate some factors that will be considered when deciding if a Discretionary Housing Payment can be made. Each case will be treated strictly on its merits. All customers will be treated equally and fairly.
Statement of objectives
We will consider making a Discretionary Housing Payment to all claimants who meet the qualifying criteria. We will treat all applications on their individual merits. We 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 to be considered as a way around any current or future entitlement restrictions. The restrictions are set out within the Housing Benefit legislation. In considering payment, we will 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). 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. 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. 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 a Discretionary Housing Payment will be awarded. Our decision is made 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. 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. This is 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 normally award a Discretionary Housing Payment for a period exceeding 12 months.
We will consider any reasonable request for backdating an award. 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 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 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. 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 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. This could be, 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. 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. Iit may take longer at busy times. Where the application is unsuccessful, we will set out the reasons why this decision was made. 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 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. 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.