3. What is the council's policy?
3.1 DHP administration
We will consider each application in line with the Council’s corporate aims and objectives, and seek to:
- alleviate poverty;
- safeguard residents in their own homes;
- sustain tenancies and help prevent homelessness;
- help customers through personal crisis and difficult events over which they have no control;
- keep families together;
- support vulnerable or elderly customers in the local community;
- help those who are trying to help themselves;
- encourage customers to obtain and sustain employment;
- support vulnerable young people, such as those leaving care, in the transition to adult life;
- help customers to move to affordable accommodation which they can maintain without the need for ongoing DHP awards;
- signpost customers seeking advice and guidance about debt to the appropriate agencies;
- support the work of foster carers; and
- support disabled people to remain in adapted properties
3.2 The Revenues and Benefits service is committed to working with other Council services and the wider community, such as Housing Services, landlords and the voluntary sector, to provide an inclusive approach to addressing financial difficulties. We will deal with claims for DHP in a professional and fair manner that shows respect for customers, members of staff and anyone else involved in the process.
3.3 The spirit of the DHP scheme is:
- To offer short-term emergency assistance to enable tenants to take the appropriate actions to change their personal situation.
- To offer longer-term support, for example, if a customer who has a disability and has had substantial adaptations to their home and where it may not be considered reasonable to expect them to move in the short-term.
- To offer help with costs associated with moving to an affordable and sustainable tenancy, removing the dependence on future DHP awards.
3.4 Some examples of when we may give temporary help via the DHP Fund are:
- reductions in HB or UC where the benefit cap has been applied;
- reductions in HB or UC for under-occupation in the social rented sector especially in the following cases:
a) where disabled people are living in significantly adapted accommodation (including any adaptations made for disabled children) ; and
b) Foster carers, whose Housing Benefit is reduced because of a bedroom being used by, or kept free for foster children.
- reductions in HB or UC as a result of LHA restrictions;
- rent shortfall to prevent a household becoming homeless whilst Housing Needs explore alternative options with the customer;
- rent officer restrictions such as local reference rent or shared accommodation rate;
- non-dependant deductions;
- reductions due to income tapers;
- a customer experiences unexpected changes in their income/expenditure which they have no control over but are still tied into the terms of their current tenancy;
- when someone is treated as temporarily absent from their main home, for example because of domestic violence and they have a liability to pay rent on two homes which is not being met in full by HB or UC;
- to help a customer to move into work after a period of unemployment;
- families where a disabled child who requires an additional bedroom but is not receiving the middle or highest rate of Disability Living Allowance;
- if benefit is less than the full rent because a customer’s disability or vulnerability makes it hard for them to move to cheaper accommodation;
- a person has moved to cheaper accommodation and there is an unavoidable overlap in rent costs;
- people affected by domestic violence who remain in a property which has been adapted under a sanctuary scheme;
- families expecting a first child where housing allocation has been made on this basis;
- approved or prospective adoptive parents who are required to have a bedroom for an adopted child;
- people approaching pension age, where work is not a realistic option;
- parents needing an additional room under child access arrangements where alternative housing options, including options in the private sector, are not appropriate; and
- to help a customer move into more affordable accommodation by paying the deposit for the new property, rent in advance and other lump sum costs associated with a housing need such as removal costs.
The above list is not exhaustive.
3.5 Rent deposits, rent in advance and moving costs
DHPs can be awarded for a rent deposit and/or rent in advance for a property that the customer is yet to move into as long as they are already entitled to HB or UC at their present home. The award will help a customer move into more affordable accommodation by paying the deposit for the new property, rent in advance and also other lump sum costs associated with a housing need, such as removal costs. These payments will be considered in conjunction with other funding available for example from rent deposit bonds and charitable payments which the customer may be eligible to receive.
3.6 When awarding DHP’s for a rent deposit or rent in advance or assisting with removal costs we will ensure that:
- the new property is affordable for the tenant; and
- the tenant has a valid reason to move; and
- the deposit or rent in advance is reasonable.
3.7 We will also establish with the customer whether they:
- are due to have a deposit or rent in advance in respect of their existing tenancy returned to them; or
- have received assistance from another department within EDDC towards a rent deposit (such as a rent deposit guarantee scheme or similar)
3.8 Applying for a DHP
Customers can apply for a DHP by:
- completing an application form on our website
- telephoning the Council
- emailing the Council
- writing to the Council
- visiting the Council offices, outreach surgeries or at a visit to the customer’s home.
It is particularly important that the most vulnerable customers know how to apply.
3.9 The Revenues and Benefits Service may request evidence in support of the application and reserves the right to verify any information or evidence provided by the customer.
3.10 In deciding whether to award a DHP, we will take into account the following criteria:
- Whether the customer has already accessed or is engaging for assistance with budgeting and financial/debt management advice. A DHP award may not be made until the customer has accepted assistance either from the Council or a third party, such as Citizens Advice Bureau or similar organisations, to enable them to manage their finances more effectively, including the termination of non-essential expenditure;
- the shortfall between HB or UC and the actual housing costs;
- any steps taken by the customer to reduce their rental liability;
- household income, including type and amount and expenditure, and also including savings and capital;
- reasonable expenses, which will be considered on a case by case basis;
- income from disability-related benefits such as Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment are considered on a case by case basis, looking at the purpose of the benefits and whether the money from those benefits have been committed to other liabilities associated with disability;
- unavoidable costs such as fares to work for people who have had to move as a result of welfare reforms;
- regular debt repayments;
- exceptional circumstances (including ill health and disability);
- the possible impact on the Council of not making such an award, e.g. the pressure on priority homeless accommodation;
- the period that the customer anticipates the DHP will be needed for; and
- any other special circumstances brought to the attention of the Council.
3.11 Applications for DHP’s will normally be subject to an income and expenditure review. DHP’s will not normally be considered where:
- Suitable alternative and more affordable housing is an option. This will include accommodation in the private rented sector. The issue of whether the accommodation is suitable will take into account whether it is reasonable to expect the tenant to move, having regard to the impacts on health and schooling where children are present;
- Alternative income sources are available. This will include unclaimed benefits and tax credits, income from other adults living in the household and savings over an agreed level
3.12 We will work with the Housing Services Team in order to address wider support issues. For example, customers may need to apply under the Rent Deposit Scheme for help in moving to smaller and/or cheaper accommodation more appropriate to their circumstances and away from reliance on DHP’s.
In all cases we will look carefully at a customer’s circumstances before coming to a decision.
3.13 A DHP award may be made based upon conditionality. This may include, amongst other things:
a) engaging with money/debt advice assistance and following and implementing any suggested actions;
b) actively engaging in Devon Home Choice and accepting accommodation which the customer has been successful in bidding for; and
c) in the case of benefit cap cases engaging with Jobcentre Plus in order to secure employment of 24+ hours per week;
3.14 No award can be made past the end of the financial year in which the award starts. In general, short term awards may be appropriate if a customer needs time to sort out their financial circumstances; longer term awards may be appropriate, depending on the customer’s circumstances and the likelihood of change.
3.15 The level of DHP award
In cases where a DHP is awarded due to a rent shortfall between housing benefit paid and rent due, the level of DHP awarded will not exceed the weekly or monthly eligible rent on the home. This includes the maximum amount of housing costs within UC towards a rental liability.
3.16 The UC award is made up of various elements such as personal, child and housing costs; however the final award consists of one monthly payment. If the customer is in receipt of a housing element within their UC, then the maximum DHP we can pay is the shortfall between the UC and the eligible rent.
3.17 For lump sum payments such as deposits or rent in advance the weekly limit does not apply.
3.18 Length of payments
There is no limit to the length of time over which a DHP may be made. A time-limited award may be appropriate when an impending change of circumstances will result in an increase in HB or UC. The start and end dates of an award are decided on a case by case basis.
3.19 A short term award may give a customer time to sort out their financial or housing circumstances, particularly if they are trying to find alternative accommodation or gain employment.
3.20 A long term may be made until the customer’s circumstances change. Examples may include a disabled customer living in significantly adapted accommodation in the social rented sector who is affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy or where a customer has a medical condition that makes it difficult to share a bedroom and for disabled children or non-dependants who need an additional bedroom for a non-resident overnight carer or team of carers.
3.21 Longer term awards may also be made where a disabled child who would normally be expected to share a bedroom under the size criteria rules requires a separate bedroom and provides evidence of this but does not meet the criterion of being in receipt of the Middle and Higher rates of DLA care.
3.22 In the case of long term awards these can only be awarded for a financial year at a time. At the start of the financial year, we will review the customer’s circumstances at the same time as looking at renewing the award.
3.23 Backdating a DHP
There are no restrictions on the length of backdating period (apart
from any date prior to 2nd July 2001).
3.24 A backdated DHP award can only be made for a period where the linked HB or UC is payable.
3.25 Examples of where we may consider a backdated DHP award where:
- A customer is subject to a rent shortfall due to welfare reforms has accrued rent arrears during the transition period between a reduction in benefit and moving into employment.
- A customer has accrued rent arrears as a result of welfare reforms and the customer wants to move to more affordable accommodation, but the landlord is preventing this due to these arrears.
3.26 Notifying our decision
We will aim to make a decision about awarding a DHP within 14 days of receiving all the information required.
3.27 We will tell all customers the outcome of their application for DHP, whether successful or not, and let them know:
- the reason for the decision;
- that they can ask us to look at our decision again;
- that they have the right to take the application to a judicial review.
3.28 For successful applications, our letters will include the following information;
- the amount of the award;
- the period of the award;
- the need to notify of any changes in circumstances;
- advice that we cannot guarantee any future applications for help will be successful, even if circumstances have not changed because DHP is cash limited and the threshold set by Government cannot be exceeded.
3.29 The Revenues and Benefits Service will decide on the most appropriate person to pay DHP to depending on the circumstances of each case. Payments of DHP will be made in line with the frequency of Housing Benefit payments.
Customers have no statutory right of appeal against DHP decisions because DHP’s are not payments of benefit and therefore cannot be appealed to the HB tribunal.
3.31 If a customer (or their appointee or agent) disagrees with a DHP decision we will review it. The review will always be undertaken by someone other than the original officer to ensure a fair review and in order to mitigate the risk of legal challenge or allegation of maladministration.
3.32 If a customer’s application has been reviewed and they are still not happy with the outcome they can:
- seek a Judicial Review;
- make a complaint in accordance with the Council’s complaint Policy, which explains how it can be escalated to the Ombudsman.
3.33 Change of circumstances and overpaid DHP
The Revenues and Benefits Service may revise an award of DHP where the customer’s circumstances have changed, which either increases or reduces their HB or UC entitlement. Awards of DHP may also be revised when there is no change to the amount of HB or UC.
3.34 We cannot recover overpaid DHPs from ongoing Housing Benefit because they are not benefit awards. We can recover DHP overpayments by issuing an invoice to the person to whom the DHP payment was made.
3.35 Overpayments will be recovered in-line with the Council’s Corporate Debt Policy.
3.36 East Devon District Council is committed to fighting fraud and therefore we will always aim to investigate any DHP applications which are suspected of being fraudulent. Submitting a fraudulent claim for DHP is a criminal offence and offenders may be prosecuted.
We will raise awareness of DHPs in a wide variety of ways including:
- using the Council’s website;
- in letters advising customers about their Housing Benefit awards;
- when customers come to us to discuss a claim;
- by working closely with our Housing Services Team;
- by making landlords and Social Services aware of the scheme;
- by involving key voluntary sector organisations such as CAB, Homemaker etc.
3.38 This will promote the overall aim of linking the scheme to the council’s vision.
3.39 Responsibility for administration of DHPs
The Revenues and Benefits Service are responsible for administering, determining and awarding DHPs.
3.40 The Service Lead for Revenues and Benefits will monitor the overall budget expenditure.
3.41 In order to monitor and manage the DHP budget effectively and fulfil its duty to act fairly, reasonably and consistently we will record the following:
- amounts awarded;
- reason for the award;
- duration of the award;
- customers’ characteristics.