Discretionary Housing Payments Policy - April 2013
Discretionary Housing Payments Policy: document contents
A scheme exists which grants Councils powers to make Discretionary Housing Payments (D HP) to top up the Housing Benefit Statutory Scheme. The legislation governing Haps can be found in the Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001 (S1 001/1167). (D FA Regulations).
The main features of the scheme are:
- the claimant does not have a statutory right to payment
- the total amount that can be paid by an Authority in any financial year is cash-limited by the Secretary of State
- the operation of the scheme is at the discretion of the Council with specific exceptions
- the scheme is completely separate from the Statutory Housing Benefit (HBO) Scheme apart from the fact that the customer must be entitled to Housing Benefit
- If they are not entitled to Housing Benefit they must be entitled to Universal Credit (IC) with housing costs included and have a rental liability
- The weekly D HP amount awarded must not exceed the maximum HBO that could be awarded in that case
- A one off award can be made for other housing costs, such as rental deposits, rent in advance and other needs such as removal costs.
Purpose and Objectives
The purpose of this policy is to specify how South Ribble Borough Council will operate the scheme and to indicate the factors that will be considered when deciding if a DHP can be made. We aim to treat all claimants with equality and fairness considering the diverse needs of our customers when administering the scheme.
Statement of objectives
The Council will make DHP to claimants who meet the qualifying criteria as specified in this policy. The Council will treat all applications on their individual merits, but will seek through the operation of this policy to:
- alleviate poverty
- encourage and sustain people in employment
- safeguard people's housing; keep families together
- help people through personal crises and difficult events
- helping those who are trying to help themselves
- supporting the vulnerable in the local community
- supporting young people in the transition to adult life
- assisting people to move to affordable accommodation
Claiming a DHP
Claiming a DHP
A claim for a DHP should be made in writing
- The Council will then issue the claimant with a DHP form for completion. The claimant must return the completed form to the Council within one month of its issue, for the claim to proceed.
- All applications for a DHP must be made by the HB benefit claimant or Universal Credit claimant and in the case of a married or unmarried couple as decided for statutory HB purposes must be made jointly, or a legal appointee.
- The Council may require the claimant to attend an interview where possible to discuss the application and request any reasonable evidence to support the claim for a DHP. The Council will make such requests in writing and the claimant should provide the evidence within one month. Existing evidence, which supported their HB claim if applicable, may be taken into account. Information may also be obtained from DWP particularly for Universal Credit applicants.
- If the claimant does not provide the required evidence, the Council will still consider the application. However, the Council may disregard any unsubstantiated statements or draw its own conclusions from other evidence available.
- The Council may in any circumstances verify any information or evidence provided by the claimant by contacting third parties, other organisations and the claimant.
Period of award
The Council will decide the start date of the claim for DHP, taking into account the claimants circumstances. This date may be:
(i) the date on which the claim for a DHP is received by the Council; or
(ii) the date on which entitlement to HB commenced; or
(iii) another more appropriate date dependent on the circumstances of the case
- The Council cannot award a DHP for any period outside an existing HB benefit period granted under the HB statutory scheme or outside an existing UC period.
- The Council will not usually award a DHP for a period exceeding 12 months.
- The Council will consider any reasonable request for backdating an award of DHP. All such requests should give the reasons why the application was not made at an earlier time.
The Council reserves its discretion to make backdated awards of DHP, but in any case will not make awards where:
(a) the underlying conditions for an award are not met; and
(b) the application was made more than 3 months after the period for which it is made.
The amount of DHP awarded
The award of a DHP will be the exception rather than the norm. The Council will consider whether to award a DHP and the amount of any such award. It will take into account:
- the amount of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit in payment
- the liability of the claimant to pay rent, net of any deductions specified by Regulation 3 of the Discretionary Financial Regulations 2001
- whether a persons maximum Housing Benefit has been restricted by the Rent Officer Service, the amount of Local Housing Allowance or the Council; and if so:
(a) the amount of the restriction;
(b) the reason for the restriction;
(c) the length of time that the restriction has been imposed.
- Steps taken by the claimant to reduce their rent liability.
- the financial and social health/medical circumstances of the claimant, their partner and any dependants and any other occupants of the claimant's home;
- the income and "essential" expenditure of the claimant or their family;
- any savings or capital that might be held by the claimant, their partner and any dependants or other occupants of the claimant's home;
- the availability and any steps taken by the claimant to obtain extra income or to reduce expenditure of the claimant or their family;
- the level of indebtedness of the claimant and their family;
- the exceptional nature of the claimant and their family's circumstances.
Whether there have been any previous awards of DHP; and if so
(a) the number, length and dates of those awards; and
(b) what action the claimant has taken to reduce the need for a DHP
- the impact on the claimant should the claim to DHP not be granted
- the amount of money available to the Council to spend on this scheme within the cash limits specified by the Secretary of State from time to time. The Council may take into account expenditure and estimated committed expenditure.
In relation to a request for a one off payment the Council will consider:
- what is the need;
- what capital and resources has the applicant to meet the need;
- is the need able to be met from elsewhere e.g rent bond guarantee scheme. If not, why not:
- would meeting the need mean the applicant was able to sustain their housing costs without additional assistance.
The award of DHP at one time does not guarantee that a further award will be made at a later date even if the claimant's circumstances remain the same. The Council cannot fetter its discretion in making one decision on a claim with regard to a later claim by the same claimant.
The Council, taking account of the above matters and the statutory limits imposed by DFA Regs, will decide the amount of any DHP award. The Council may decide not to award anything or may award any amount up to the maximum allowed under the DFA Regs.
Change of circumstances and Method of payment
Changes of Circumstances
As claimants for DHP must be in receipt of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit with housing costs included, they therefore remain under a general requirement to inform us of changes in their circumstances that might affect their claim for HB and also for Universal Credit
The Council's policy will be that a change in the claimant's circumstances will not affect the level of their DHP providing:
- they retain entitlement to Housing Benefit or Universal Credit with housing costs
- the level of their Housing Benefit, plus the DHP does not exceed their liability to pay rent, less the deductions specified in Regulation 3 of the Discretionary Financial Regulations 2001
- the change of circumstances was not specifically defined as being critical to the award of the DHP. The Council may specify changes in circumstances that will need to be notified to the Council as it is considered that the amount or need for a DHP will change on such an event. In these cases the Council may revise the DHP award.
Method of Payment
We will decide to whom we will make payment of the DHP based upon the circumstances of each case. This could include:
- the claimant; their partner;
- an appointee;
- their landlord (or an agent of the landlord); or
- any third party to whom it might be appropriate to make payment.
We will pay any award of DHP by the most appropriate means available in each case. This could include payment:
- with Housing Benefit;
- by BACS;
- by offsetting the DHP against any other liability the claimant or partner has to the Council to reduce indebtedness and reduce their expenditure.
We will decide in each case whether the DHP should be paid in advance or in arrears.
Notification and appeal rights
We will inform claimants of the outcome of the application within 10 working days of making a decision about their DHP claim. We will notify:
- those whose application is unsuccessful
- the reasons why we have decided not to award a DHP
those whose application is successful
- the 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;
- a summary of the reasons for the award, any requirement to notify us of changes in circumstances that could affect the DHP award.
To all claimants
- a reminder of the requirement to notify the council of changes in circumstances;
- their appeal rights
DHP's are not payments of Housing Benefit and are therefore not subject to the statutory benefits appeals mechanism where appeals are decided by the Tribunal Service, which is an independent statutory body and part of the Justice Ministry. The Council will therefore decide any appeals relating to DHPs.
We will therefore operate the following policy for dealing with appeals about DHPs.
- A claimant (or their appointee or agent) who wants an explanation of a DHP decision may request one in writing during the period of the DHP award.
- A claimant (or their appointee or agent) who disagrees with a DHP decision may dispute the decision.
- Any such dispute must be made in writing, and must be made within one calendar month of the written decision about the DHP being issued to the claimant. Officers will explain the DHP decision verbally to the claimant by telephone or by interview and seek to resolve the disagreement. Where this cannot be achieved Officers will formally review the decision.
- The Officers will reconsider the award of any DHP that has been disputed and notify the claimant of the outcome of the review. A review will be suspended if more information is needed from a claimant until the information is received. The claimant will have one month to supply any relevant information.
- In the event that following an internal review of a decision, the Officers decide that the original decision should not be revised, we will notify the claimant. There are no further rights of appeal against a decision.
In the event that the claimant feels the internal review has not been undertaken fairly the claimant can request that an independent senior officer (appointed by the Head of Service) shall review the decision to ensure that it has been made fairly and complies with this policy. In the event that this officer concludes that the decision has not been made fairly or in accordance with this policy, they shall refer the matter back to the officer conducting the internal review for reconsideration.
Overpayments and Fraud
The Council will seek to recover any DHP found to be overpaid. We will seek recovery from the claimant and/or their partner, regardless of how and to whom the DHP was paid. We will do this by invoicing the claimant and/or partner. We will not seek recovery of any overpayment caused through Local Authority error unless it is reasonable that the recipient could realise the decision was incorrect. Any decision that a DHP is overpaid will be notified. An appeal may be made against this decision.
The Council will only allow an appeal against the recovery of a DHP overpayment on the following grounds:
- the calculation of the overpayment
- that the overpayment should not be recoverable as it was caused by LA error where the recipient could not reasonably know an error had been made.
The Council is committed to fight against fraud in all its forms. Discretionary Housing Benefit payments can only be awarded if the customer is already in receipt of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit with housing costs included. For Housing Benefit customers their circumstances are obtained from their completed benefit application form and therefore the fraud would have been perpetrated against both the benefit application and the DHP application. For Universal Credit customers their circumstances are obtained from their completed DHP application form along with information received from DWP and therefore the fraud would have been perpetrated against both the Universal Credit application and the DHP application.
Any cases where the Council suspects that fraud has occurred will be investigated and subject to the actions available within the Council's Anti-Fraud policy.