In April 2013, the government updated the guidance manual for applications for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) to coincide with a number of changes to welfare benefits – including the introduction of Universal Credit and the abolition of Council Tax Benefit and removal of the Spare Room Subsidy (better known as the Bedroom Tax).
Prior to this, the government announced on 14 December 2011 that it would increase the funding to the DHP budget by £30 million to take account of the effect that the new rules may have on some people.
For example, the DHP guidance states that it may be more cost-effective for those living in adapted accommodation with a spare room to be given financial support through a DHP to remain there. It recommends that local authorities identify people who fall into this group and actually invite them to make applications.
On 30 July 2013, the High Court ruled that the removal of the spare room subsidy was lawful and did not discriminate against disabled people. It highlighted the fact that the government had significantly increased the DHP budget to accommodate those disabled people who were adversely affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy.
It therefore essential that individuals understand their rights when applying for DHPs to ensure that they are effective in meeting the shortfalls in income caused by recent changes to the rules.
How Do I Apply?
This varies depending on your local authority. Most local authorities require you to complete an application form and these should be available from the housing department.
Am I Eligible?
In order to be considered for a DHP, applicants have to demonstrate that they are unable to meet their housing costs from their available income.
To be eligible for a DHP you must be in receipt of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. Secondly, you must be in need of “further financial assistance”, which is loosely defined in the DHP guidance. However, local authorities do not have to grant DHPs to everyone in their area who is suffering a shortfall in housing costs and they are limited to the amount they have received from government for this purpose.
Local authorities have discretion as to how they assess your financial circumstances but any decision they make has to be made fairly. They must not adopt blanket policies in how they treat applications for DHPs.
We understand that many disabled people across the county are being refused or offered a low amount of DHP because the local authority has taken into account income which arguably, it should not have done. In particular, we understand that there are many local authorities who appear to be taking into account DLA as income for assessment purposes. This may be unlawful in some circumstances. If your local authority has taken into account your DLA for assessment purposes, you should contact a solicitor for legal advice.
DHPs can be awarded for any length of time and local authorities must consider whether it is appropriate in your particular circumstance to award the DHP on an ongoing basis. It cannot adopt a policy whereby it only grants lump sums.
What Does A DHP Cover?
DHPs cannot be awarded towards council tax liability but can be used towards housing costs. Housing costs are broadly defined and can include costs such as deposits, rent in advance and other lump sums as well as meeting an ongoing shortfall.
DHPs cannot cover:
- Council tax liability
- Increases in rent due to outstanding rent arrears
- Sanctions or reductions in benefits
- Rent if you are already receiving local council tax support
Can I Appeal If I’m Not Happy With What I’ve Been Awarded?
There is no right of appeal for reconsideration of unsuccessful applications. However, you can make a formal complaint using the local authority’s complaints process.
If you think that your local authority may have been unlawful in coming to its decision, then you may be able to challenge the decision by way of a judicial review to the High Court. Any such challenge must be brought within three months of the decision and so you should contact specialist solicitors for advice as soon as possible.
What Should I Look Out For?
You should make sure that the local authority has not:
- Applied a blanket policy e.g. stated that they only grant lump sums or do not grant DHPs for help with a rent deposit
- Taken into account your DLA when assessing your income
- Refused your application without providing reasons
For expert advice on matters relating to discretionary housing payments, please contact Fiona McGhee of Irwin Mitchell's public law team on 0800 028 1943 or contact us online.