1.1. DHPs provide additional financial support for claimants of Housing Benefit (HB) or Housing Costs Element of Universal Credit (UC) to meet their housing costs, who are considered by the Council to be in severe financial hardship or have exceptional circumstances.
1.2. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) makes annual grants available to local authorities for DHP purposes. Nationally the government will make available £140 million, initially £100 million will be distributed to local authorities with the remaining £40 million being distributed in the middle of the financial year according to the latest Housing Benefit caseload data. Reading Borough Councils initial allocation is £369,691, and it is expected the total allocation will be less than we received in 2020-2021.
1.3. The Council considers how to allocate this limited resource in a way that is not only fair, but also supports those that the Council considers to be in most need of assistance.
2.1. The policy sets out how DHP claims are decided, and the factors the Council considers when deciding whether to grant or refuse an award. All Local Authorities must act fairly, reasonably and consistently and each application must be decided on its own merits. Decision making should be consistent throughout the year.
2.2. Due to the limited budget there is an expectation that all claimants will take actions to improve their situation, prioritise housing costs and work with support they have been offered. Priority will be given to these claimants, with consideration given to reasonable explanations where this has not been possible.
2.3. In order to manage the DHP budget as effectively as possible we have introduced conditions to the majority of DHP awards, the use of conditionality has been perceived as good practice in most Local Authorities. Conditions ensure that claimants know what steps to take and how to improve their situation and reduce their need for a further DHPs. Where conditions have not been met and no reasonable explanation has been provided, a further award may not be made.
2.4. DHP awards are only made for fixed period according to the individual circumstances of each case, they are not intended as a long-term solution. A three-month award will be made in most cases in order to give time for the claimant to improve their situation, it is expected that claimants will act on the conditions immediately.
2.5. Longer term awards can be made in exceptional circumstances at the Council’s discretion.
2.6. The DHP scheme is totally separate to UC, HB and Council Tax Support. Reading Borough Council has a separate Discretionary Council Tax Support Payment scheme for assistance towards Council Tax liability.
3.1. Our DHP Policy has the following key objectives:
Before a DHP can be considered, the applicant must:
5.1. Priority and non-priority groups have been established to ensure that the most vulnerable claimants with exceptional circumstances are prioritised with longer term financial assistance up to the end of each financial year.
5.2. Priority Groups are defined as:
5.3. Claimants who do not meet the priority group criteria will be placed in the non- priority group and will be considered for a short-term award in order to give time for the claimant to take actions to improve their situation. Conditions will be placed on most of these awards to reduce the claimant’s reliance on DHPs, these actions should be taken by the claimant immediately. Conditions are always designed to be beneficial to the claimant improving their situation and are not a punitive measure.
5.4. Examples of types of conditionality include:
5.5. When making a repeat application, the applicant must be able to show how they have met the conditions applied to their previous award, and any steps they have taken to improve their situation. Where conditions have not been met, a reasonable explanation covering the period of the award will need to be provided that will be considered.
6.1. The benefit cap is a limit on the total amount of benefit that can be received, the claimants HB or UC is reduced to the benefit cap limit.
6.2. DHPs can be used to support claimants who have had their HB or UC affected by the benefit cap, who are in financial need with challenges that prevent them from immediately dealing with the benefit cap by:
6.3. Due to the limited budget, conditions are unusually placed on this type of DHP to ensure that actions are taken towards a long-term solution. Priority will be given to benefit capped claimants who are likely to be particularly affected by the benefit cap, for example:
7.1. All working-age claimants living in social rented accommodation will have their ‘eligible rent’ reduced if they are under-occupying their property, this is determined by the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) size criteria. There is a 14% reduction for one spare bedroom, and 25% for two or more spare bedrooms.
7.2. Claimants affected by the reduction are expected to explore ways of making up the shortfall themselves. This can include:
7.3. Due to the limited budget, priority will be given to claimants who are likely to be particularly affected by the under-occupation reduction, for example:
8.1. LHA rates restrict the amount of HB or Housing Costs Element of UC that can be paid to private tenants. There have been several changes to the way that LHA rates are calculated including the removal of the five-bedroom rate and extending the age someone is expected to live in shared accommodation from 25 to 35 years old.
8.2. Claimants affected by the reduction are expected to explore ways of making up the shortfall themselves. This can include:
8.3. Due to the limited budget, priority will be given to claimants who are likely to be particularly affected by the LHA reforms, for example:
9.1. Due to the limited budget in order to provide long term solutions to claimants, priority will be given to applicants who are moving to more affordable accommodation where no other funding is available.
9.2. When considering applications for rent in advance, deposits or removal costs the following criteria must be met:
9.3. The availability of any deposit or rent in advance owed to the applicant from a previous property will also be considered, along with if the applicant has been paid a DHP for rent in advance or deposit in the past.
9.4. Rent in advance and deposits will normally be paid to the landlord.
9.5. Where removal costs have been applied for, three written estimates need to be provided by the applicant before a decision can be made. This is so that we can consider if the cost is reasonable.
9.6. Where the applicant’s current accommodation is unaffordable or there is a risk of homelessness, a decision will be made if it would be more cost effective to provide financial assistance to help them move to more affordable accommodation, instead of providing financial assistance to cover any shortfall in rent or reduce rent arrears.
10.1. A DHP cannot be awarded to pay for the following:
10.2. A DHP cannot be awarded when:
10.3. Where the DHP budget is exhausted prior to the end of the financial year, it will not be possible to award any further payments under this policy even where an applicant meets the qualifying criteria.
11.1. An application can only be considered when HB or the Housing Costs Element of UC is in payment.
11.2. Applications should be made as soon as the need arises, the start date of a DHP will normally be the Monday following the application being received. Backdated payments can be requested and will be considered on a case by case basis in exceptional circumstances where there is a continuous good cause for not applying sooner.
11.3. DHPs are usually made to help with an immediate need rather than a past period. The Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations state that DHPs can only be considered for a period where HB or Housing Costs Element of UC was payable. Backdated awards are restricted to the eligible shortfall between HB or Housing Costs Element of UC and the rent charge to prevent a duplication of payments towards housing costs.
11.4. A DHP award will end if a claimant migrates from HB to UC, a new DHP application will be required from the date UC was applied for.
12.1. In most cases, the person who applies for a DHP will be the HB or UC claimant. However, if considered reasonable an application can be accepted from someone acting on behalf of the HB or UC claimant. When this is requested, a written authority from the claimant is required to discuss details of their application with the person acting on behalf of the claimant.
12.2. In all cases the claimant/person acting on behalf of the claimant must fully complete a DHP application, including income and expenditure details, and an explanation of the claimant’s situation.
12.3. DHPs can be claimed by:
13.1. A decision will be made within 15 working days or as soon as practical of receiving the DHP application, along with any supporting evidence. All decisions will be notified in writing and will include information on how to request a review.
13.2. When deciding whether to award a DHP, we will consider the following objectives:
13.3. When assessing an application, we will take the total the household income, and subtract the household expenses listed on the application. Where high expenditure is listed with no reasonable explanation, we will use spending figures based on national averages for people on low incomes to work out the extent of financial hardship.
13.4. We will then consider the amount of the eligible shortfall, and the potential difference an award would make before deciding to make an award, and the amount of an award.
13.5. When calculating the total household income Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance (care and mobility components) and Personal Independent Payments (daily living and mobility components) will be disregarded or offset against specific costs associated with ill health or disability. This will be considered on a case by case basis.
13.6. We will consider unavoidable or high costs that the claimant may have, such as fares for travel to work or special dietary requirements when assessing the claimant’s outgoings. Where necessary a further explanation or evidence of expenditure may be required.
13.7. After an award ends, the claimant will need to reapply for a further award by making a new application, this will be considered afresh and not automatically rewarded.
When reapplying for a DHP after conditions have been set, the claimant must provide details or evidence to show how conditions have been met, or a reasonable explanation why they have not met conditions. Failure to supply information within a month of the request will result in the application being unsuccessful.
13.8. The assessment process may require an interview with a member of Reading Borough Council’s Debt Advice Team, where the circumstances of each individual case and further information can be considered before a decision is made.
13.9. The claimant will be signposted to other Council departments such as Housing Advice or Social Services or to external agencies if it is considered this would help.
13.10. The claimant has a duty to notify the Entitlement and Assessment Team of all relevant changes in their circumstances (including any changes to income and household), in line with the same reporting requirements they have with their claim for HB or UC.
14.1. DHPs can be paid in a lump sum or a series of payments, for example weekly or monthly at the same frequency as HB or UC at the discretion of the Council.
14.2. DHPs will generally be paid to the same person/organisation that is being paid the HB/Housing Costs Element of Universal Credit. However, payments can be made to a third party (such as a landlord) at the discretion of the Council when considered reasonable to do so. DHPs for Council tenants will be credited directly to their rent account.
15.1. Where an application has been refused for not supplying information requested, we will accept information supplied within one week from the date of that decision along with a request for the new information to be assessed without the need for a new application.
15.2. Where the applicant is dissatisfied with a decision they will need to write to the Entitlement and Assessment Team within one month of the date of notification and request a stage one review of the decision. The letter must state why they disagree with the decision made and, if necessary, provide reasonable evidence.
15.3. A different officer that was not involved in the original decision will consider the request, along with any new evidence or information within a month. Further information will be requested if required before a decision is made. Where additional information or evidence is not provided within a month, the review will be unsuccessful.
15.4. Once the decision has been reviewed a letter will be sent advising whether the original decision has been revised or the grounds why the review was unsuccessful.
15.5. If the applicant is dissatisfied with the outcome of the stage one review, they will need to write to the Entitlement and Assessment Team within one month of the stage one decision notification to request a stage two review. The letter must state why they still disagree with the decision made and, if necessary, provide reasonable evidence.
15.6. An internal review panel formed by Council representatives will consider the stage two review request and any new evidence or information and make a final decision within a month regarding the claimants DHP application.
15.7. Once the internal review panel has considered the stage two review, a letter will be sent advising whether the decision has been revised or the grounds why the review was unsuccessful. This will be the final stage of the dispute process.
15.8. There is no right of appeal to a Social Security Tribunal against the Council’s decision to disallow an application for DHP. The route of judicial review is available, and the local government ombudsman if a claimant considers there to be maladministration.
16.1. We will stop paying DHPs if:
17.1. The Council will make every effort to minimise overpayments of DHP. Overpayments of DHP will be recovered if it is decided that payment has been made as a result of a misrepresentation or failure to disclose a material fact by the claimant or person acting on their behalf (either fraudulently or otherwise), or an error made when the application was determined. In these circumstances the DHP can be recovered because it is classed as being overpaid.
17.2. Where it is decided to recover a DHP overpayment, a written explanation of how the overpayment occurred, and the periods and amounts to which it relates will be sent.
17.3. DHP overpayments can be recovered by offsetting them against any future DHP awards, or an invoice will be sent to the person that received the DHP, and where necessary consideration to reasonable repayment plans will be given. In extreme circumstances recovery action can be taken though the courts.
17.4. Where the applicant disagrees with a decision to recover an overpayment, they will need to follow the DHP dispute progress.
18.1. This policy will be reviewed annually, or in response to any legislative changes, welfare reform or other factors that impact on its effectiveness.
19.1. The Council must act in accordance with the relevant legislation including the Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001 (the DFA regulations) and consider the Department for Work and Pensions Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual.
20.1. Reading Borough Council Entitlement and Assessment Team, Civic Offices, Bridge Street, Reading RG1 2LU