The following Briefing Note was issued by TWC on 11th December 2013.
Overview provided by Telford & Wrekin Council for Stakeholders and Partners
Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are additional awards over and above Housing Benefit entitlement that can be awarded to people to help them make payments towards Housing Costs, typically where there is a shortfall between the rent they are charged and the Housing Benefit they are entitled to.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) give each Council a limited budget each year from which to pay DHPs. Any money not spent has to be returned to the DWP. For 2013/14 the budget allocated to Telford & Wrekin Council is just over £350k.
DHPs are administered by the Discretionary Awards Team in the Revenues & Benefit Service.
What can DHP’s help towards?
DHPs can help people who require further assistance with Housing Costs. Whilst there is no definition of housing costs under our policy we primarily use our DHP Budget to help people who have a shortfall between the rent charged and the Housing Benefit (including Local Housing Allowance) they are entitled to.
DHPs can help people who rent in either the Social or Private sector.
Reasons for shortfall can include a restriction as the property is larger than the customer needs, the rent is more expensive than the Local Housing Allowance, there is non-dependant deduction or the person’s income is such that they are not entitled to full Housing Benefit.
What can’t DHP’s help towards?
Discretionary Housing Payments cannot help pay for the following:
- Ineligible Service Charges that are included in the rent; e.g. gas/electric etc
- Increases in rent due to rent arrears
- Shortfalls in Housing Benefit caused by overpayment recovery
- Shortfall in entitlement due to sanctions or suspensions.
Criteria that must be met
When considering a DHP there are certain conditions that have to be met:
- The applicant must be entitled to Housing Benefit (previous arrears that accrued prior to Housing Benefit being in payment cannot be considered)
- The applicant must have a rent liability.
- Requires further assistance with housing costs
Under our policy the following also must be met
- The person cannot afford the shortfall (or other housing cost) when taking into account their income and essential expenditure.
If someone has sufficient income to afford the shortfall (or would have if they reduced none essential expenditure) the DHP will be refused.
How does someone apply?
An application can be found on the Council’s website – via this link. A pdf of the form is also available. The website includes further information on DHPs.
We would ask that where possible you help the person complete the application. If there is any further background that would help us when making a decision then we would appreciate if you could include this with the application. You can scan and e-mail any completed applications to: “discretionaryawards” e-mail address (can be found in global address list in outlook).
What happens with the application?
We previously visited all customers prior to the Bedroom Tax being introduced, but this was impossible to do due to the volume of DHP applications we received. At present we are visiting some cases, but the majority are being completed by phone. We complete a financial analysis of all their income and expenditure before we make our decision and make recommendations to amend finances if possible.
A letter is issued once we have made our decision. Regardless of whether an award is made advice is given on the steps a customer can take to ease their financial circumstances.
We aim to deal with applications within 35 days (currently taking just over 20 days but this fluctuates depending on number of requests) however if you have a case that is urgent and requires a quicker response e.g. because of a court hearing please include this when you e-mail the application.
What Periods are DHP’s usually considered?
DHP awards are usually awarded from the Monday following receipt of DHP application and in general terms granted between 3 to 4 months depending on circumstances.
We can consider backdating and would normally only backdate for 3 months. However based on customer’s circumstances and budget we can consider applications back to 1st April 2013. Please note that there must be a Housing Benefit claim in payment with a shortfall in rent for the period of the backdate.
Awards are made to try to prevent eviction if possible and continue to protect tenancy, while the tenant seeks their own solutions to their financial hardship. This could include securing employment, whilst they apply for additional benefits e.g. Disability Living Allowance / Personal Independence Payments, adjusts finances to meet shortfall, considers moving to cheaper accommodation or consider lodger or sub tenants to help with the size criteria.
If you have any questions about Discretionary Housing Payments please contact the Discretionary Awards Team on 01952 383838.