1. Under powers within the Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001 (as amended – the “Regulations”) Norwich City Council has the ability to authorise discretionary housing payments (DHP) to those who may “require some further financial assistance…in order to meet housing costs”.
2. These powers are also supported and guided by the DWP “DHP Guidance Manual” (guidance introduced from April 2013 and subject to update – the “Guidance”). The latest guidance was published in May 2016.
3. From April 2013 these funds will only be eligible to those who are in receipt of housing benefit (or the Housing Element of universal credit) and have a rental liability. Eligibility has been removed for those receiving support under the localised Council Tax Reduction Scheme if they do not receive housing benefit (or universal credit) as well.
4. These powers are entirely discretionary and as such any decisions to award (or not) cannot be appealed to a Social Security Tribunal. However as with all functions there are general duties “to act fairly, reasonably and consistently1”.
5. Each year funds are granted from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to support the payment of DHPs. These awards are cash limited and will not be topped up during the year by DWP.
6. However Norwich City Council (NCC) is able to supplement the DHP budget from the general fund so long as it does not exceed an overall cash limit. This top up must not exceed two and a half times the government contribution. 2 Any payments above this amount are illegal.
7. Given the pressures on the council’s budgets and the changes which have been implemented from national government which affect benefit entitlement Norwich City Council will not in general supplement the DHP budget above the monies granted each year by DWP.
8. The council does understand that decisions need to be equitable over the year and therefore regular monitoring of the budget will take place. If the policy needs to be amended in the face of demand or the budget needs short term support from the general fund in exceptional circumstances then such decisions will need to be made through the appropriate governance framework.
9. The purpose of the DHP policy is to provide financial support for those most in need whilst working with and supporting those receiving DHP to find longer term solutions to reduce the gap between their housing costs and ability to meet those costs where no other financial support is available or appropriate. Other means of financial support include the council's homeless prevention fund, designed to prevent homelessness for vulnerable clients.
10. The purpose of DHP is to support tenants regardless of whom their landlord is. However it does not (and by law cannot) support owner occupiers or other groups without liability for defined “housing costs”.
11. The national context is that DHPs can be awarded “when a Local Authority (LA) considers that a claimant requires further financial assistance3”.
12. The purpose of DHP funds will be across various forms of renting and will aim to alleviate short term financial need whilst working to secure longer term changes in personal or housing circumstances which make housing costs more sustainable.
13. This policy on DHP also supports the 2015-20 corporate plan objectives of “Fair city – to reduce financial and social inequalities” and “Healthy city with good housing – to prevent people from becoming homeless through providing advice and alternative housing options”.
14. More specifically, in no particular order of priority, the policy will support the following objectives:
- Alleviate poverty, prevent homelessness and supporting domestic violence victims trying to move to a place of safety
- Keep residents in their own home, whether it be social housing or privately rented, provided the home is of realistic size at reasonable cost for the needs of the family and there are good reasons why it would not be possible to move
- Support residents move to suitable alternative accommodation where that provides the best long term solution to better meeting their housing costs
- Support the vulnerable or elderly
- Support household stability so that children and young people can receive good education and that vulnerable young people are supported in moving to adulthood
- Keep families together
- Keep local support mechanisms in place; where either the applicant is in receipt or providing support
- Assist people to obtain or retain employment; and
- Make best use of a variety of sources of discretionary awards
15. The council is committed to working inter-service area and collaborating with external organisations in order to maximise applicants’ entitlement to all benefits and discounts.
16. In line with the funding policy in paragraph 6 there is also a key objective to neither underspend nor overspend the annual DWP allocation of DHP funding. This is designed to achieve the following objectives:
- Maximise the use of available funding to support low income households;
- As far as possible base decisions on individual requests for DHP on need and broader criteria rather than the availability of funding, and
- Minimise the financial risk to the council more generally and therefore services provided across the city.
17. Current guidance4 states that requests must come from someone who is in receipt of:
- housing benefit or receiving the housing element of universal credit
- and is liable for housing costs
- and requires “further financial assistance with housing costs”
18. Consequently applications will not be eligible for anyone who has only an entitlement under a local council tax reduction scheme.
19. This policy will be reviewed as universal credit (UC) comes into force. At this stage any applications from those in receipt of UC will have their claims assessed in the light of their total UC entitlement and whether there is a housing component to that claim.
20. Requests to back date claims will be allowed. However these can only be for a period where benefit was in payment i.e. cannot be backdated to a time before housing benefit was in payment.
21. In order to manage demand for this cash limited fund and in order to be able to adjust payments during any financial year applications will be prioritised. These priority groups are detailed in Appendix 1.
22. As part of regular monitoring certain priority groups may be withdrawn / or additional ones added (temporarily or for the remainder of the financial year).
23. This decision will be taken by the Executive head of business relationship management and democracy in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Fairness and Equality.
24. This list is not exhaustive and does not guarantee acceptance for an award of DHP. All cases will be judged on their individual merits.
25. Where applications are received and refused due to a lack of funding and they are in a lower priority group, they will be kept on file for three months. Should funds become available at a later date that allow lower priority groups to be awarded they will be assessed based on the date they were received.
26. By definition most payments are designed to be short term and temporary in nature. In some cases there may be an obvious duration period such as, for example, supporting a tenant in the final three months of an assured short hold tenancy where relationship break down has impacted their income.
27. Others will appear to be much longer term. For example households in disabled adapted properties whose personal circumstances are likely to mean that the need for the adaptation is likely to be lifelong. However the policy should enable reassessment of personal circumstances such as income and expenditure which may change over time.
28. Consequently each award will take into account both the reason for the application and the time period over which adjustment or personal and / or financial circumstances could be adjusted to meet the financial shortfall.
29. The policy shall have a primary aim for all awards to be short term with a flexible mechanism to enable longer term payment if appropriate.
Application and decision process
30. A claim must be made using the claim form provided by the council. These can be obtained by contacting the Customer Contact Team at Norwich City Council or completed on line at www.norwich.gov.uk. However reasonable adjustment will be made where alternative forms of claim may be more suitable.
31. Where potential for an award of a DHP is identified, a claim form will be issued to the person who appears to be eligible inviting a claim.
32. Evidence and information to support the claim may be required and this must be provided within one month of the council asking for the information unless there are good reasons for the delay e.g. difficulty in obtaining written evidence from a third party. If the evidence and information is not provided within one month or a good reason for the delay is not provided the application will be refused. A new application may be submitted once the evidence and information is available.
33. No costs shall be borne by the authority in the provision of this evidence.
34. The claim must be made by the person who is receiving the qualifying benefit or their “official appointee”. An official appointee is a person who has been authorised by the DWP to act on a customer’s behalf, or who holds a power of attorney or who is the official administrator of a deceased person’s estate.
35. Some claims shall be referred to a panel for determination. The panel will be formed from senior officers of the revenue and benefits team and the housing service.
36. These cases shall be those where, but not exclusive to:
- DHP has previously been awarded for 52 weeks or more and medical issues are cited
- DHP has previously been awarded for 52 weeks and no proper explanations has been cited for a further award
- There are unusually high expenses
- A rent deposit or moving expenses are claimed
37. Claims will be determined within 14 days, or as soon as practicably possible, from the date that all of the required information has been received from the applicant.
38. All of the circumstances of the customer and their immediate household will be taken into account. The claimant may be required to provide documentary evidence to assist the determination of their claim.
39. Reference may be made to other available evidence held by the council eg benefit claim records. Access to other benefits will be checked and, where appropriate, referral to other agencies will be recommended.
40. In making an assessment officers may take into consideration whether previous DHP awards have been made. They shall also consider the customer’s willingness and ability to resolve their housing issues and what actions are or have been taken in order to achieve this.
41. By making an application for DHP the claimant is giving Norwich City Council revenues and benefits service their authority to access information already available to them in order to determine the outcome of your application.
42. Applications will also be considered against other sources of support to find the most suitable source and to maximise the use of limited resources across differing needs and tenures.
43. It is the responsibility of the claimant to submit a new application when an award expires. Updated evidence will be required and may include confirmation of efforts to maximise income during the preceding DHP award period. A subsequent award may not necessarily be made even where the person’s circumstances have not changed.
44. As DHP awards are entirely discretionary, there is no right of appeal. If a customer’s circumstances change, or if they wish to submit new information, a new application can be made.
45. However if an applicant does not agree with the initial decision then a request for a reconsideration can be made within 28 days’ of notification. That request must state reasons for disagreement with the decision and provide evidence of income or expenditure different to that considered at the first decision.
46. The reconsideration will be determined within 14 days of the council receiving a fully evidenced request.
47. A panel formed from officers of the revenue and benefits team and the housing team, more senior than those making the first decision shall consider the reconsideration request.
48. There will be no further appeal process.
49. A DHP is generally a weekly or monthly amount. The amount awarded cannot normally exceed the difference between the weekly HB or monthly housing element of UC already being paid and the weekly eligible rent.
DHP payments to Norwich City Council tenants will be made direct to their rent accounts.
DHP payments to Norwich City Council tenants in receipt of UC will be made direct to their bank account unless there is a managed payment in place. In these cases, the DHP payment will be made direct to their rent account.
50. Where the DHP is a one off payment for rent in advance, a rental deposit or moving costs the amount awarded may exceed that difference figure.
Changes of circumstance and recovery of DHP
51. Where a DHP has been awarded and the recipient’s circumstances change, they are required to inform Norwich City Council in writing within one month of the date of the change. For this purpose, a change of circumstances is defined in the same way as those requiring notification for HB purposes.
52. The award of DHP can be reduced or ended when there is a change of circumstances.
53. A DHP award can be ended when:
- the period of the award expires
- there is a change of circumstances
- if the council decides that the award has been made on the basis of a misrepresentation or failure to disclose a material fact, fraudulently or otherwise; or
- it has been paid as the result of an error.
54. A DHP payment, or payments, will be recovered where the council decides that the award has been made on the basis of a misrepresentation or failure to disclose a material fact, fraudulently or otherwise; or it has been paid as the result of an error made when the claim was determined.
55. Civil Procedures may be used if necessary to enforce recovery.
Appendix 1 – priority groups
It is important that Norwich City Council uses their discretion to ensure DHP is awarded to those who most require assistance based on local circumstances. All decisions on the award of DHP will be based upon individual circumstances and assessment of key facts. In all cases there needs to be a verified need for “further financial assistance with housing costs”. However in apportioning the scarce funds available we aim to support the following broad priority groups.
Priority 1 (all of equal merit)
- applicants entitled to carer’s allowance or universal credit which includes the carer element
- applicants in need of and living in properties with significant disabled adaptations (and where that adaptation is still required) where an under occupation benefit charge or benefit cap is in place
- applications from households fleeing domestic violence
- households accepted by / registered with Norfolk County Council as foster families where an under occupation benefit charge is in place
- households who could move to cheaper accommodation but doing so would fall within six months of a key educational milestone for a child in that household aged between 14 and 18 (in particular taking exams)
- homeless households or those threatened with homelessness
Priority 2 (all of equal merit)
- households with an under occupation benefit charge where that household contains a women due to give birth within six months and that birth will remove the under occupation charge
- households giving or receiving specific local support, for example for a child with a disability or older people, where a move would reduce the impact of that support
- households who are currently subject to an under occupation charge where the natural ageing of the children will remove that charge within six months (i.e. due to changes of eligible bedrooms under the appropriate benefit regulations)
- tenants of properties who are unable to regulate their heating charges to accommodate housing liabilities due to, for example, being on a district heating scheme or where “green deal” capital work has fixed the charges to pay for those works
- private sector tenants whose benefit entitlement has been reduced from one bedroom to single room occupancy subsequent to the start of their tenancy
- short term support for households who may experience a reduction in benefits or UC arising from being posted as part of the armed services, reserves or Territorial Army
- impacts of unforeseen change of circumstances which impact ability to meet housing costs (eg loss of job, relationship breakdown, reduction in earned income, total benefits cap)
- resettlement of offenders where short term support to secure accommodation will support a reduced reoffending
- households where the accommodation supports continued employmente.g. close location to work with unsociable hours or very difficult transport options
- single households under 35 in social housing who are at risk of losing their home as a result of the introduction of the LHA cap in April 2018
Priority 3 (all of equal merit)
- households with an under occupation benefit charge where that household contains a women due to give birth within six months and that birth will not remove the under occupation charge
- households who could move to cheaper accommodation but moving would result in a mandatory change in schools and where the child affected is aged 16 or under
1 Guidance – paragraph 1.9
2 Guidance – paragraph 1.10
3 Guidance – paragraph 1.6
4 Guidance – paragraph 2.0