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Discretionary housing payments

This content applies to England

Discretionary housing payments (DHPs) for claimants who require more help with housing costs.

Conditions for an award

A local authority can award a discretionary housing payment to a claimant, so long as:[1]

  • the claimant is entitled to housing benefit or housing costs towards rent in universal credit (including cases where the claimant would be entitled to housing costs in universal credit)
  • the authority considers that the claimant requires further help with housing costs in addition to housing benefit or housing costs element
  • it is within the authority's cash limit
  • the payment is not needed to make up a shortfall caused by the recovery of an overpayment or certain other deductions from benefit, or liabilities for some other debts.

The Discretionary Housing Payments guidance manual published by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) gives local authorities on the operation of the scheme.

Most commonly, a DHP is awarded is where there is a shortfall between the claimant's rent and the maximum housing benefit payable under the regulations. It can also be awarded:

  • to pay arrears of rent where the claimant is in receipt of housing benefit and there is no shortfall from their current rent level (although not where the claimant had already received a payment of housing benefit in respect of that rent)[2]
  • where the claimant is entitled to housing benefit or a housing element of universal credit in her/his current home but needs funds for a rent deposit or rent in advance for a property s/he not yet moved into.[3]

The guidance sets out advice on when DHPs can be used to provide support to claimants affected by the benefit cap, the removal of the spare room subsidy (the bedroom tax) or reductions in local housing allowance.[4]

Fixed annual budget

Awards are discretionary and there is a fixed annual budget which cannot be exceeded.[5]

Shortfalls of rent that cannot be covered

A shortfall of rent cannot be covered by a DHP if it is as a result of:[6]

  • ineligible service charges (ie service charges included in rent that are ineligible for housing benefit or the housing element of universal credit)
  • increases in rent due to outstanding rent arrears.

Income and expenditure to be taken into account

A local authority can decide how to treat a claimant's income and expenditure.[7] When deciding how to treat income from disability-related benefits the local authority must have regard to the purpose of those benefits and whether the money from those benefits has been committed to other liabilities associated with disability.[8] The authority may also take 'unavoidable costs' into account, such as fares to work which may have increased if a person had to move because of changes to their welfare benefit entitlement.[9]

Where a claimant has received an emergency payment from funds set up to help people in the aftermath of certain incidents, DWP guidance encourages local authorities not to exclude applications for a DHP.[10]

Limits on award of DHP

In theory, an applicant can receive a DHP award of up to the amount of housing benefit or housing costs in universal credit to which they are entitled.[11] In practice, however, they are unlikely to receive more than any shortfall.[12] However, a lump sum can be awarded in respect of rent in advance or a tenancy deposit, or in other cases where the award is not calculated as a weekly or monthly amount.[13]

The start and end dates of a DHP award are decided by the local authority on a case-by-case basis. Most are usually only paid for a limited period. However, a local authority has the discretion to make an award on a long-term or indefinite basis, for example when awarded to a disabled claimant who lives in significantly adapted accommodation in the social rented sector and is subject to the bedroom tax.[14]

Universal credit

Regulations ensure that universal credit claimants who have rent (or equivalent) liabilities can apply for discretionary housing payments.[15] The same regulations also allow for a discretionary housing payment to be made in situations where a person's universal credit would have contained an amount in respect of housing costs but for the fact that the person is in exempt accommodation or temporary accommodation.

DWP guidance clarifies that where a universal credit claimant's housing costs are being paid direct to their landlord (a 'managed payment to landlord', or 'MPTL'), there is no legal reason that s/he cannot apply for a discretionary housing payment.[16] However, some authorities may require the MPTL to be removed before they will accept a DHP claim. If a MPTL is removed, the claimant will need to pay their rent directly to their landlord.

For more information about housing costs under universal credit see Conditions for the housing cost element.

Council tax

A discretionary housing payment cannot be awarded to help a claimant meet any shortfall between the council tax support s/he receives and her/his council tax liability.[17]

[1] Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001 SI 2001/1167 as amended by Discretionary Financial Assistance (Amendment) Regulations 2008 SI 2008/637.

[2] R (on the application of Gargett) v Lambeth LBC [2008] EWCA Civ 1450.

[3] para 2.3 - 2.19 Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual, DWP, March 2018.

[4] para 1.1 - 3.13 Discretionary Housing Payments Good Practice Guide (at back of Manual), DWP, March 2018.

[5] Annual HB circulars give details of the government's contribution to local authority DHP budgets and overall expenditure limits for the coming financial year: See HB Circulars S1/2018; S1/2017; etc.

[6] reg 3 Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001 SI 2001/1167 as amended by Discretionary Financial Assistance (Amendment) Regulations 2008 SI 2008/637.

[7] para 3.11 Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual, DWP, March 2018.

[8] R (on the application of Hardy) v Sandwell MBC & Zaccheus 2000 Trust (Intervener) [2015] EWHC 890 (Admin).

[9] para 3.10 Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual, DWP, March 2018.

[10] Para 3.14-3.15 Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual, DWP, March 2018.

[11] reg 4, Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001 SI 2001/1167.

[12] para 2.26 - 2.31 Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual, DWP, March 2018.

[13] R (on the application of Gargett) v Lambeth LBC [2008] EWCA Civ 1450; para 2.3-2.5 Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual, DWP, March 2018.

[14] R (on the application of Halvai) v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC [2017] EWHC 802 (Admin); para 5.2 and para 5.3 Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual, DWP, March 2018.

[15] Reg 4(2)(b) Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001 SI 2001/1167 as amended by reg 2(5) Welfare Reform Act 2012 (Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2013 SI 2013/1139 and reg 2(b) Universall Credit (Miscellaneous Amendments, Saving and Transitional Provision) Regulations 2018 SI 2018/65.

[16] HB Bulletin G12/2016, amended 3 February 2017.

[17] reg 3(c) Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001 SI 2001/1167.

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