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Policy - Discretionary Housing Payment

Dumfries and Galloway Council's Discretionary Housing Payment Policy

Background

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) were introduced in July 2001. The general provisions for DHPs are contained in Reg. 2 to the Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001. These state -

(Subject to various criteria) ... a relevant authority may make payments by way of financial assistance, ("discretionary Housing Payments") to persons who -

(a) are entitled to housing benefit

(b) appear to such authority to require some further assistance (in addition to the benefit or benefits to which they are entitled) in order to meet housing costs.

It must be noted that although funded by central government the DHP's are not Benefit payments and are cash limited.

The local authority (LA) must be satisfied that the customer is in need of further financial assistance with their housing costs. The main features of the scheme are that:

  • Payment is discretionary, there is no statutory right to a payment.
  • The amount available to the local authority is cash limited in any financial year by the Secretary of State.
  • The local authority has discretion in determining how to operate the scheme. This policy document specifies how Dumfries and Galloway Council will operate it.
  • The DHP fund is allocated to each LA at the start of each financial year.
  • Housing Benefit must be in payment in the benefit week/s that a DHP award is made for.


Policy Aims

To ensure that DHPs contribute to the Council's aims and objectives of 'wealthier' and 'fairer' and to promote social and financial inclusion for its residents while not subsidising poor or inappropriate accommodation.


Objectives

The Benefits Service will consider making a payment of a DHP to claimants who meet the qualifying criteria as specified in this policy. Each application for a DHP will be treated strictly on its merits and all customers will be treated equally and fairly when the scheme is administered. The following objectives are linked to the council's corporate aims and objectives and seek through the operation of this policy to:

  • Alleviate poverty.
  • Support vulnerable young people in the transition to adult life.
  • Encourage Dumfries and Galloway residents to obtain and sustain employment.
  • Safeguard Dumfries and Galloway 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 Benefits Service considers that the DHP 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.


Decision Making

A claim for a DHP must be made in writing and signed. We will make an application form available as required.

  • In deciding whether to make a DHP award the council will take into account the personal and financial circumstances of the customer their family and household members.
  • The Benefits Service reserves the right to request and verify any reasonable evidence in support an application for a DHP claim. 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, the Benefits Service will still consider the application and will take into account any other available evidence including that held on the Housing Benefit file.

Decisions will aim to be made within 14 days of all the information required being received, or as soon as possible thereafter.

All claims for DHP will be treated equally and fairly in accordance with the council's policy on race, diversity and equality. The council will endeavour to ensure that no-one who applies for a DHP will be treated less favourably than any other person on irrelevant grounds such as age, disability, gender, religious beliefs, marital status, nationality, race or sexual orientation.


What a DHP award cannot be used for

A DHP award cannot be used to cover any of the following

  • Service or support charges that are ineligible for Housing Benefit.
  • Any rental liability if the claimant is in receipt of Council Tax Reduction only.
  • Any Council Tax liability.
  • Increases to cover rent arrears which are not eligible for Housing Benefit.
  • Reductions in any benefit as a result of Jobseekers sanctions, Child Support sanctions or sanctions following certain benefit related offences.
  • Housing Benefit that is suspended.
  • A reduction of Housing Benefit as the result of an anti-social behaviour sanction
  • Shortfalls in Housing Benefit caused by overpayment recovery.


Period of award

The Benefits Service will make a decision on the length of time of the DHP award based on the known facts and the evidence supplied.

The start date of an award will usually be decided as circumstances warrant.


The Award

In deciding whether to award a DHP, officers will take into account any of the following factors, which may be relevant:

  • the shortfall between Housing Benefit and the rental liability (net of any ineligible service charges)
  • any steps taken by the customer to reduce their rental liability
  • any steps taken by the customer to improve their situation
  • the financial, medical or social needs and circumstances of the claimant, their partner and any other persons in the household
  • the income and expenditure of the claimant, their partner and any other persons in the household
  • any savings or capital held by the claimant or family members
  • the level of debt of the claimant and family
  • any exceptional circumstances of the claimant or family members
  • any special reasons which make it necessary or particularly desirable for the claimant to occupy the dwelling in respect of which the liability arises
  • the possible consequences of rent arrears for the claimant or family members, especially if any of them are vulnerable by reason of age, sickness or disability
  • the amount available in the council's DHP budget
  • the possible impact on the council of not making an award e.g. the pressure on priority homeless accommodation
  • the availability of suitable alternative accommodation
  • any other special circumstances brought to the officers attention

The Benefits Service will decide how much to award based on all of the circumstances. This may be an amount below the difference between the rental liability and the payment of Housing 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.


Change of Circumstances

Customers awarded a DHP must notify the Benefits Service of any changes to their or any member of their family or household's personal or financial circumstances. The DHP may be revised up or down as appropriate.


Notification

The Benefits Service will notify the customer of the outcome of their DHP application. Where the application is unsuccessful, the Benefits Service will set out the reasons why this decision was made and explain the right of review. If the application is successful the customer will be advised of:

  • The weekly amount of the DHP awarded.
  • 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 request a review of a decision.
  • Award decisions will reflect the fact that customers are expected to make every effort to make adjustments to their circumstances to alleviate the requirement for a further DHP after their current award has ended.


The Right of Review

There is no statutory right of appeal against a DHP decision because DHPs are not payments of benefit. A claimant (or their appointee or agent) who disagrees with a DHP decision may dispute the decision. They can request a review of that decision. A request for a review should be delivered in writing to the Benefits Service within one calendar month of the written decision about the DHP being issued to the claimant.

An officer who was not part of the original decision making team will consider the request for a review. The reviewing officer will notify the customer of their decision, which will be final and there will be no further right of review. Dissatisfied customers have the option of requesting a judicial review.


Overpayments

The Benefits Service may seek recovery of any DHP overpaid.


Monitoring

All payments of DHP are recorded as part of the relevant claim on the council's computer system.

Total DHP expenditure will be monitored on an ongoing monthly basis and is reported as part of the Revenues Monthly report. The total awarded will be monitored to check that the expenditure will not exceed the budget prescribed by the Department for Work and Pensions.


Fraud

The Benefits Service is committed to fighting fraud. Suspected fraudulent DHP applications will be investigated. Submitting a fraudulent claim for DHP is a criminal offence and offenders may be prosecuted.


Publicity

The availability of the DHP scheme is publicised on the council's Internet, in leaflets and in letters advising customers about their Housing Benefit awards.

The Benefits Service is committed to working with other departments within the council and the wider community such as the voluntary sector and social landlords to provide an inclusive approach to addressing financial difficulties.

Related Information

Contact Details

 

Revenues Services - Benefits

Carruthers House
English Street
Dumfries
DG1 2HP

Tel: 030 33 33 3006
Fax: 01387 260326

Contact Dumfries and Galloway Council T: 030 33 33 3000

Council Offices
English Street
Dumfries
DG1 2DD

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