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Discretionary Housing Payments

This guide for RCN members cover Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) including advice on eligibility and how to make a claim.

Housing laws vary between England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It is important to consider this when you explore your housing rights and the options available.

If you are living in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland you may qualify for a discretionary housing payment (DHP) if you have a rental liability, are claiming housing benefit and you struggle to meet the full cost of your housing expenses.  

For the purposes of this advice, ‘local council’ refers to your Local Authority if you are in England, Scotland or Wales and your Housing Executive if you live in Northern Ireland.

Local councils do try to offer some flexibility to applicants wishing to apply for a DHP. They will take into account the reasons for your financial difficulty, for example:

  • if you are trying to cover legal expenses
  • you are making child maintenance payments
  • you are spending a lot of time at home due to ill health and your heating bill is high
  • your housing benefit has been reduced due to the welfare reforms
  • the additional travel costs you may encounter due to moving to cheaper accommodation.

Each year your local council is given a budget to make DHPs to those people who are in need and are in receipt of housing benefit. Once the council’s annual budget for DHPs has been exhausted, no further DHPs will be made during that financial year.

It is important to note that these payments are discretionary so you should not assume they are guaranteed. There is no legal entitlement to a DHP. Each case is considered on its own merits and there is no set list of criteria that will make you automatically qualify. As the funding is limited awards need to be granted to those applicants who are most in need.

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What assistance can Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) provide?

DHPs can be awarded to cover a shortfall in rent in certain circumstances including:

  • a reduction in housing benefit where the benefit cap has been applied
  • a reduction in housing benefit for under-occupancy for social tenants
  • rules restricting single claimants under 35 years of age to shared accommodation rate, irrespective of the size of the property they live in
  • a reduction in housing benefit due to local housing allowance restrictions
  • a shortfall in rent if a family are at risk of homelessness whilst the local authority are considering alternative housing options, for non-dependant deductions and when an income taper has been applied.  

DHPs can also be awarded to help cover the costs of rent deposits and rent in advance for people yet to move into a new property who are currently in receipt of housing benefit at their current home.

When local authorities make an award to assist with rental deposits or advance for rent they will consider whether the property will offer affordable rent for the tenant.

These awards may also be paid directly to the landlord rather than the tenant.

DHPs may also be awarded to assist with removal costs.

DHPs can also be paid in special circumstances where a tenant is liable for rent for two properties if they are treated as temporarily absent from their main home, for example people affected by domestic violence.

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What costs can Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) not cover?

DHPs will not be awarded to cover the cost of service charges, if your rent has been increased due to rent arrears or your other benefits have been reduced due to receiving a benefit sanction e.g. you left your most recent job voluntarily. Since 1 April 2013 DHPs have not been paid towards council tax liability.

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How to make a claim for Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP)

To make a claim for a DHP you should either call or visit your local council and ask to complete a DHP form. The DHP application is separate from the process for claiming housing and council tax benefits. Some councils may offer the facility to apply online.

Your local council will ask you to explain your current circumstances and the reasons you are experiencing financial hardship. You may also need to provide some supporting documents to accompany your application, for example bank statements to prove your income and expenditure.

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Length of award

Awards may be granted as a one off payment, or on a short term or longer term basis, dependent on your circumstances. If your claim is successful your local council will provide details of the start and end date of the award that will be paid to you. Once your award ends you may apply for another DHP. The decision makers will reassess your needs at the time of your new application.

Once the annual budget for DHP has run out at your local council, further applications will be turned down until new funding becomes available in the following year.

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Reporting a change in circumstances

If you are awarded a DHP you should tell your local council if your circumstances change so that they can make any necessary adjustments. If the change means you have been awarded too much DHP your local council is entitled to recover the overpayment from you.

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What to do if you are unhappy with your local council’s decision?

If your claim is unsuccessful you can ask your council to reconsider their decision. We advise that you make this request in writing and send it recorded delivery, keeping copies of all correspondence. Your local council will state the timeframe which is available for you to request reconsideration. If the council agree to stand by their original decision there is no right to appeal to a tribunal.  

If you are living in England it might be possible to challenge the council’s decision through the court using a judicial review. However, this option is not always appropriate or available.

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Further information

For England, Wales and Scotland please see Gov.uk.

For Northern Ireland please see the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Please click here to find your local authority.

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Need more advice?

Call RCN Direct on: 0345 772 6100