Ask CPAG Online - Can you dispute a DHP decision?

You can dispute any decision relating to a discretionary housing payment (DHP) application, including:

  • a refusal of a DHP;
  • the amount of a DHP;
  • the method of payment;
  • the period for which a DHP is awarded;
  • stopping DHPs;
  • asking you to pay back an overpayment of DHPs.

What does the law say? 

Unlike most benefit decisions, there is no legal right of appeal to an independent tribunal against a DHP decision. This reflects the fact that there is no legal right to DHPs, which are paid at the discretion of a local authority (LA). The regulations allow a LA to ‘review’ any decision it makes.1

Where a person requests a review of a DHP decision, the LA must issue a written decision with reasons.2 This implies that there is a right to request a review of a decision, even though this is not specifically stated in the law. If you request a review and the LA fails to issue a decision with reasons, they are acting unlawfully and are open to judicial review. A refusal to carry out a review is also judicially reviewable.

There are no rules about how you about how and when (e.g. time limits) you must request a review and how the review must be carried out, but any procedure which is not fair and accessible would be open to legal challenge. Each LA must, therefore, decide how to operate a review procedure which you can find out about by checking details of your local scheme (see How can you find out about your local DHP scheme?).

What does guidance say?

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) issues guidance to LAs about DHPs in a Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual and Good Practice Guide. Although not law, it constitutes authoritative guidance to LAs on how to ensure that their decisions and procedures are lawful.

Paragraph 4.11 of the Good Practice Guide states:

‘It is good practice to have a disputes procedure. This could also help to reduce the possibility of a legal challenge. Examples of good practice are:

  • involve an officer other than the one who made the original decision;
  • depending on resources, have a panel of senior officers review the application;
  • the decision letter should clearly state the reasons for a negative decision;
  • claimants know who they can complain to in the first instance;
  • claimants are given some ides how long the process will take;
  • if they disagree with the first decision they should know where to go next.

Paragraphs 6.4 and 6.5 of the Guidance Manual state:

‘There is no requirement that the review arrangements take any particular form as long as the authority is consistent and the original decision maker is not involved. To minimise the risk of legal challenge you are advised to ensure that the review is carried out by a more senior colleague that the person who made the original decision’.

If you think your review was not conducted fairly because of a failure to follow these examples, you could make a complaint, quoting the guidance. Failure to follow good practice may also be grounds for Judicial Review of a decision.