Discretionary Housing Payment and Exceptional Hardship Fund Policy Statement

There are Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) available to allow councils to give people extra help with their rent. This includes people affected by the Welfare Reform changes introduced by the Government from 1 April 13 such as the reductions in Housing Benefit due to the social rented sector size restrictions (what has been termed as the bedroom tax) and the Benefit Cap.

These funds will be particularly targeted towards two groups affected by the social rented sector size reductions, namely people living in accommodation significantly adapted because of disabilities and foster carers. The amount that the council can spend on DHP is limited.

The Council has a limited Exceptional Hardship Payment Fund (EHP) available to anyone who is responsible for Council Tax who is suffering financial hardship.

Publicity
Sefton Council pro-actively promotes DHPs by working in partnership with local community organisations to promote the availability and take-up of DHPs. In doing so the council makes claim forms, leaflets and literature on DHPs available via the Sefton Council website, One Stop Shops, Advice Centres, Registered Social Landlords and other suitable locations across the borough.

Requesting a DHP/EHP
There is a joint application to cover both payments but you can use it just to apply for payment of DHP or EHP only. You can apply online using the link in the 'Do it online' section of this page. Customers need to give the council as much information as they can as to why they are requesting a DHP/EHP, how much they are requesting and over what period they are requesting the DHP/EHP for.

Applications for DHP will only be considered where customers are entitled to Housing Benefit and there is a shortfall between their Housing Benefit and their rent or where they are in receipt of Universal Credit, which includes the housing cost element. Applications for EHP will only be considered for anyone who is responsible for payment of Council Tax and is suffering financial hardship.

Who can request DHP/EHP?
This would normally be the person who is entitled to Housing Benefit, Universal Credit or the Council Tax payer. The council may accept claims from someone acting on behalf of the person concerned, such as an appointee.

People affected by reductions in Local Housing Allowance
DHPs can be made to those customers who are affected by reductions in Local Housing Allowance rates. As each request for a DHP is considered on a case-by-case basis customers will need to provide full details of their circumstances.

Customers must either be entitled to some Housing Benefit and there should be a shortfall between the amount of rent that they pay and the amount of Housing Benefit they receive or be entitled to some Universal Credit which includes the Housing Cost element.

However, the amount of DHP funding available is cash limited and will not make up the full losses resulting from these changes. Most DHP awards are made only for a short period of time to allow the customer time to review their circumstances.

People affected by reductions in rent due to size restrictions
The Government has made additional funds available from 2013/14 specifically to help two groups who may be affected by the introduction of size criteria rules in to the social rented sector. These are people living in significantly adapted accommodation and foster carers. There may be limited funds available for other cases.
Adapted accommodation

If you live in accommodation that has been significantly adapted for you or someone in your household due to a disability, you may be entitled to a DHP to make up any shortfall in your rent from having a reduction for your ‘spare’ room.
Foster carers

If you are a registered foster carer and you require more than one room for the foster children you are currently looking after, you may be considered to be under-occupying your accommodation and see a reduction in your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. As a result you may be able to get a DHP to cover any shortfall in rent.

Targeted Assistance for EHP
The aim of EHP is not just to pay additional levels of support to Council Tax payers (thereby enhancing the Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme) but to aid and assist the most impoverished families/claimant(s).

A key element of the fund will be that support will only be given to Council Tax payers who qualify for a short period of time. It is not intended that the fund will be a long-term solution.

Where Council Tax payers are unable to meet their liabilities in the longer term, they will be encouraged to take actions; this may include taking debt advice or reducing their Council Tax liabilities such as by moving to smaller or less expensive premises.

Priority will be given to those cases, which are identified as particularly vulnerable.

Notifying DHP/EHP Decisions
The council will write to the customer to confirm the DHP/EHP decision but as DHP/EHP are both discretionary there are no appeal rights to an Independent Tribunal. But the customer can ask the council to look at their case again if they are not happy with the outcome of their request for a DHP/EHP.

Period of DHP/EHP Award
There is no set limit to the time that a DHP can be awarded for and the council will decide what award period is appropriate. It may be appropriate to award a DHP for a short period to give the customer time to sort out their financial circumstances. Or it may be appropriate to make an indefinite award or a one off payment. A key element of the EHP fund will be that support will only be given to Council Tax payers who qualify for a short period of time. It is not intended that the fund will be a long-term solution.

Each DHP/EHP request will be considered on its own merits.

Change of Circumstances
It is important that customers report changes in their circumstances if they are getting Housing Benefit/Council Tax Reduction or Universal Credit and this also applies if they are getting DHP/EHP.

The DHP/EHP will be looked at again to check if there is a change to the award. If the change means that the award is reduced this may result in an overpayment. Customers may have to pay back some or all of the overpayment.

Method of Payment
DHPs awarded to help with rent will be paid along with the customer’s award of Housing Benefit either to them or directly to their landlord. Customers on Universal Credit will have their award of DHP paid separately to their Universal Credit but it will usually be paid to whomever the housing cost element is paid to.

EHPs will be credited directly to the customer’s Council Tax account and any outstanding payments adjusted accordingly.

Prevention of Homelessness
Within Sefton Council, the Benefits Service and the Housing Options Team work closely to promote the availability of DHPs. Procedures are in place for requests for DHPs to be made by the Housing Options Team on behalf of customers to help retain tenancies and help prevent homelessness.

Debt advice
There are a number of agencies throughout Sefton that are able to provide free confidential Debt advice to Sefton residents.

Fraud
Sefton Council is committed to protecting public funds. If a customer provides false information, or does not provide all relevant information, in order to claim a DHP/EHP then they will be subject to an investigation and that could result in prosecution.

Policy
Sefton Council’s policy in respect of DHP and EHP can be viewed on-line. We will review the DHP/EHP policy annually as well as the procedures in place to administer the DHP/EHP.

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