Ask CPAG Online - When and what can you be paid?

You can get a discretionary housing payment (DHP) if your local authority (LA) thinks you need ‘further financial assistance’ to meet your ‘housing costs’. ‘Further financial assistance’ is not defined, but in most cases you will need to demonstrate that you are unable to meet your housing costs from your available income and savings.

‘Housing costs’ are not defined and are not restricted to rent. They could, for example, include payments for deposits, rent in advance, and removal costs when moving to new accommodation.

The regulations do specify certain payments that cannot be met by a DHP.

What can’t you claim for?1

You cannot get a DHP for the following:

  • service charges which cannot be covered by HB or UC, including fuel and water charges;
  • council tax (note that you can apply to your LA for a discretionary reduction of your council tax bill, as well as your local council tax reduction scheme – see Chapter 49(1) of the CPAG Handbook);
  • increases in rent due to arrears of rent or other housing costs.

You cannot get a DHP if you need help because of benefit reductions due to:

  • a sanction, an offence, or a failure to comply with a child maintenance requirement;
  • suspension of payment (e.g. following a failure to provide required information);
  • recovery of an overpayment.

What can you claim for?

You can claim for any other housing costs including:

  • rent (and rent arrears);
  • eligible service charges;
  • mortgage payments if you have a ‘shared ownership’ tenancy;
  • rent deposits, rent in advance and removal costs when you move home.

DHPs are most commonly used to cover shortfalls between the amount of HB or UC housing costs you receive and the rent you have to pay. In particular, the Government describes DHPs as a ‘key element’ in its strategy for managing reductions to HB and UC resulting from its welfare reform programme.2

Are you affected by the ‘benefit cap’?

If you are affected by the ‘benefit cap’ (see Chapter 50(5) of the Handbook), your HB or UC will be reduced. This may mean that you do not have enough money to meet your housing costs. You can apply for a DHP to make up the shortfall between your HB or UC housing costs and your rent.

The Government has provided additional funding for DHPs to support claimants affected by the cap. The DWP’s Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual and Good Practice Guide to LAs states that ‘DHPs can make an important contribution to managing the transition for claimants whilst they make the necessary changes to adapt to the application of the benefit cap’.3

You may, for example, need time to find more affordable accommodation or enter work. The Guide states the extra funding is specifically aimed at claimants who are likely to be particularly affected by the cap, including (but not limited to) those:

  • in temporary accommodation;
  • fleeing domestic violence;
  • looking after other people’s children (‘kinship carers’);
  • unable to move immediately due to health, education, child protection, or difficulty in finding appropriate accommodation.4

Are you affected by the ‘bedroom tax’? 

If you are affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ or ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’ (see Chapters 19(3) and 22(6) of the CPAG Handbook), your HB eligible rent or UC housing costs will be reduced by 14% if you have one excess bedroom or 25% if you have more than one excess bedroom. 

This may mean that you do not have enough money to meet your housing costs. You can apply for a DHP to make up the shortfall between your HB or UC housing costs and your rent. 

The Government has provided additional funding for DHPs to support claimants affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. The ‘Good Practice Guide’ specifically mentions the following circumstances:5

  • If you live in disability adapted accommodation, the Guide recommends LAs to invite a DHP application as it may be more cost-effective for you to remain in your accommodation than move to smaller accommodation which needs to be adapted.
  • The Guide stresses that a DHP can be awarded where there has been no significant adaptation, but a member of your household has a long-term medical condition that creates difficulties in sharing a bedroom.
  • If you have applied, or been approved, to adopt a child, a DHP can be awarded until the child is living with you.
  • Foster carers are allowed one extra bedroom, but a DHP can be awarded if you are fostering more than one child or have applied to become a foster parent.
  • You are allowed an extra bedroom for a disabled child who is entitled to the middle or higher rate care component of disability living allowance (DLA) and cannot reasonably share a bedroom because of his or her disability. If your child cannot share a bedroom because of disability (including where this impacts on the sleep patterns of another child) but is not entitled to DLA (including where a decision on a claim is pending), a DHP can be considered.

Note also that legal challenges to the bedroom tax have been rejected partly on the basis that DHPs are available to mitigate the effects.6 

Are you affected by the local housing allowance restrictions?

If you are a private tenant, your HB or UC housing costs may be less than your rent because of the local housing allowance restrictions or other rent restrictions (see Chapters 19 and 22(6) of the CPAG Handbook). If you do not have enough money to meet your housing costs, you can get a DHP to make up the shortfall (including if you are working and are struggling to pay your rent ).7

Are you affected by non-dependant deductions?

If you are struggling to pay your rent because your HB or UC is reduced due to a non-dependant deduction (Chapters 4(4) and 22(6) of the CPAG Handbook), you can apply for a DHP to make up for the shortfall between your HB and UC housing costs and your rent. There is no legal requirement for your non-dependant to make up the difference and s/he may not be able or willing to do so.

Are you working and struggling to pay your rent?

If you are in low paid work and are struggling to pay your rent, because, for example you have high work expenses or debts to repay, you can apply for a DHP to make up the difference between your HB or UC housing costs and our rent.

Do you have rent arrears?

If you have rent arrears, and particularly if you are threatened with eviction, you can apply for a DHP if you cannot afford to clear the arrears. See ‘How much can you get?’ for the rules on maximum payments. Note, you cannot get a DHP to cover an increase in your rent that is due to rent arrears.

Are you threatened with homelessness?

A DHP could help to prevent you becoming homeless. The Guidance Manual advises that early intervention is a key issue for LAs, and that DHPs can prevent or reduce the risk of homelessness and help those who have previously been homeless or in LA care by increasing the sustainability of their accommodation.8

Do you need financial help to move?

You can get a DHP if you need help to meet housing costs when you move home. These could include rent deposits, rent in advance and removal costs.

  • You must be entitled to HB or UC housing costs for your current home or when you apply for a DHP. You should apply to the LA where you live.
  • You need to establish that you have a valid reason to move and that the deposit or rent in advance is reasonable. The Guidance Manual says that a DHP for deposits and rent in advance ‘may be particularly appropriate to help existing claimants move to alternative accommodation where their award of HB has been restricted following one of the welfare reforms.’
  • There may be other schemes run by the LA or charities in your area which offer support towards rent deposits or rent in advance.
  • There is no limit on the amount you can get (see ‘How much can you get?).
  • You do not have to repay a DHP when you get your rent deposit back.9

Do you have to pay rent on two homes? 

You can get a DHP to cover shortfalls on two homes if you have to temporarily leave your normal home, for example because of domestic violence.10 If you move to another LA area, you should apply to either LA (LAs should collaborate to decide which of then should deal with a DHP application).11 If you are only entitled to HB or UC housing costs for one home, this will limit the amount you can get as a DHP (see ‘How much can you get?’).

How much can you get?

The LA must use its discretion to decide how much to award you, taking into account your financial circumstances and need for further help to meet your housing costs. For more details see ‘How should the council decide if you can get a DHP?’.

The law, however, specifies that if you are entitled to HB, weekly DHPs cannot exceed the amount of your ‘eligible rent’ (i.e. the payments which HB can meet). If you are entitled to UC, monthly DHPs cannot exceed the amount you are getting for housing costs if you rent your accommodation. This should be specified on your UC award notice.

Note that this is the amount of UC you can get for housing costs after deductions have been made in accordance with the ‘local housing allowance’ and for the ‘bedroom tax’ and non-dependants. The UC limit does not apply, however, if you awarded weekly (as opposed to monthly) DHPs. 

The maximum amounts can be paid on top of the HB or UC housing costs you are getting, but you must need ‘further financial assistance’, taking account of the amount of HB or UC housing costs you are already getting. This means that you cannot get a DHP for housing costs already paid for by HB or UC.

If you get DHPs for a past period (e.g. for rent arrears), the maximum amounts apply to each week or month during the period and HB or UC housing costs already paid must be deducted.12 

There is no legal limit on the amount payable as a lump sum for costs such as deposits, removal costs and rent in advance when moving.