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Policy & Resources Committee

25 November 2020

 

Discretionary Housing Payments

 

Final Decision-Maker

Policy & Resources

Lead Head of Service

Stephen McGinnes, Director Mid Kent Services

Lead Officer and Report Author

Sheila Coburn, Head of Revenues and Benefits Partnership

Classification

Public

 

Wards affected

All

 

Executive Summary

The Council is provided with an annual Discretionary Housing Payment grant by the

Department for Work and Pensions in order to provide additional financial support to

that awarded through the Housing Benefit scheme.

 

Whilst the Council already has a Discretionary Housing Payment Policy in place, Appendix 1 to this report sets out an updated Policy to be approved.

 

Purpose of Report

 

The purpose of this report is to update Policy and Resources Committee on the reasons for Discretionary Housing Payments and for Policy & Resources Committee to recommend to Full Council the approval of the updated Discretionary Housing Payment policy in Appendix 1.

 

 

This report makes the following recommendations to this Committee:

1.   That Policy & Resources Committee recommends to Full Council to adopt the Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) Policy as detailed in the report and Appendix 1.

 

 

Timetable

Meeting

Date

Policy & Resources Committee

25 November 2020

Council

9 December 2020



Discretionary Housing Payments

 

1.       CROSS-CUTTING ISSUES AND IMPLICATIONS

 

 

Issue

Implications

Sign-off

Impact on Corporate Priorities

Homes and Communities - We do not expect the recommendations will by themselves materially affect achievement of corporate priorities.  However, they will support the Councilís overall achievement of its aims as set out in section 3 by ensuring those in need are protected.

Sheila Coburn,

Head of Revenues and Benefits Partnership

Cross Cutting Objectives

The report recommendations support the

achievement of the Deprivation and Social

Mobility by providing support to households in need.

Sheila Coburn,

Head of Revenues and Benefits Partnership

Risk Management

The risks associated with implementing and

operating the scheme are low and endorsement of a scheme helps reduce the risk.

Sheila Coburn, Head of Revenues and Benefits Partnership

Financial

A grant of £406,051 is provided by the Department for Work and Pensions for the award of DHP. The grant is ring-fenced with any unspent funds returned at the end of the year.

The grant has been increased for 2020-21 in anticipation of COVID.

 

[Section 151 Officer

Finance Team

Staffing

We will deliver the recommendations with our current staffing.

 

Sheila Coburn, Head of Revenues and Benefits Partnership

Legal

The administration of DHP is provided through the Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001. The proposed policy complies with the requirements of the Regulations and with government guidance that states that decisions must be made in accordance with ordinary principles of good decision making, i.e. administrative law. Councils have a duty to act fairly, reasonably and consistently. Each case must be decided on its own merits, and decision making should be consistent throughout the year.

Keith Trowell, Team Leader (Corporate Governance) MKLS

Privacy and Data Protection

Data will be collected for the purposes of processing the Discretionary Housing Payment application.

The data will be held and processed in

accordance with the data protection principles

contained in Schedule 1 to the Data Protection

Act 1998.

Policy and Information Team

Equalities

The Policy has not fundamentally changed, but been updated for clarity.

As the Policy is being revised, a EqIA is required and is contained in Appendix 3.

 

Equalities and Corporate Policy Officer

Public Health

 

 

We recognise the recommendations will not negatively impact on population health or that of individuals.

Sheila Coburn, †Head of Revenues and Benefits Partnership

Crime and Disorder

No impact

Sheila Coburn, †Head of Revenues and Benefits Partnership

Procurement

No impact

Sheila Coburn, †Head of Revenues and Benefits Partnership

 

 

 

 

2.††††† INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

 

2.1††† The Council is provided with an annual Discretionary Housing Payment

†††††† †grant by the Department for Work and Pensions in order to provide

††††††† additional financial support to that awarded through the Housing Benefit

††††††† scheme.

 

2.2†† Discretionary Housing Payments operate outside the main benefit system

††††††† but for ease of administration are normally paid alongside Housing Benefit.

 

2.3†† The payments are limited to providing support with housing related costs

††††††† for residents in receipt of Housing Benefit or the housing element of

††† ††††Universal Credit. Support is restricted to those within the rental sector and

††††††† cannot support home owners.

 

2.4†† The budget available to Maidstone Borough Council in 2020-21 is £406,051,

††††††† which includes additional funding because of the expected take up of

††††††† Discretionary Housing Payments due to COVID19. Last year 2019-20 the

††††††† budget was £302,510.

 

2.5†† Whilst this represents a significant budget, demand for DHP is high with

††††††† support targeted to help those households affected by welfare reform or

††††††† who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

 

2.6†† Last year (2019-20), 354 residents benefitted from a DHP award which was

†††††† given for reasons such as

 

         shortfall in rent whilst moving to a more affordable property

         removal costs as downsizing

         partner died, shortfall in rent whilst applying benefits

         possession order - paid to prevent eviction

         assist move from temporary accommodation

 

2.7† The Council already has a Discretionary Payment Policy in place which was

†††††† approved by the Council in 2017. The Policy has been updated to provide

†††††† clarity that:

 

         a DHP payment is a short term emergency fund

         applications will only be accepted from a person within the Councilís area

         provides a framework for officers to be guided in decision making whilst ensuring consistent treatment but allowing for sufficient discretion

         applications can be made by someone acting on behalf of someone else who is vulnerable or needs support

         the customer is expected to take responsibility such as taking tenancies at reasonable rents, seeks/receives appropriate housing advice, provides sufficient proof of debts/expenditure, shows evidence of job seeking activities (where not vulnerable)

 

2.8† On recommendation of Internal Audit, the Policy will be updated and

†††††† approved on an annual basis in future.

 

2.9† The policy sets out the Councilís aims in operating the DHP scheme and the

†††††† types of† situations that it will prioritise such as to:

 

         help alleviate poverty

         encourage employment

         prevent homelessness

         support vulnerable households

         provide support at a time of crisis

 

2.10 Claims for DHP are used as an opportunity to review and promote other

†††††† benefits e.g. unclaimed tax credits. We work closely with other agencies

†††††† e.g. CAB for debt advice and social landlords to identify and pro actively

†††††† support vulnerable people.

 

 

 

3.   AVAILABLE OPTIONS

 

3.1                    †††Option 1 - The Council could operate a scheme without adopting a policy

†† but this does not make clear the Councilís approach for awards. The funding

†† given by the Government is on the basis the Council has a Discretionary

†† Housing Payment Policy in place.

 

3.2†† Option 2 - Retain the current policy. Retaining the current policy is a

††††††† consideration, but it has not been revised since 2017 and this would go

††††††† against Audit recommendations.

 

3.3†† Option 3 - Adopting the updated policy so it is clear the Councilís approach

† †and priorities for awards are revised regularly.

 

 

 

4.        PREFERRED OPTION AND REASONS FOR RECOMMENDATIONS

 

4.1        †††Option 3 is the preferred option - that the Council adopts the updated †

††††††† policy in order to provide a transparent process which sets out the

††††††† prioritisation of awards. The impact of not adopting this revised policy

††††††† means the council is working to an out of date policy.

 

 

 

5.       RISK

5.1    †††The risks associated with this proposal, including the risks if the Council †

†† does not act as recommended, have been considered in line with the

†† Councilís Risk Management Framework. We are satisfied that the risks

† †associated are within the Councilís risk appetite and will be managed as per

†† the Policy.

 

 

 

6.       CONSULTATION RESULTS AND PREVIOUS COMMITTEE FEEDBACK

 

6.1        †††The policy has been produced in consultation with representation from

†† the voluntary sector, social landlords, Job Centre Plus, Kent County Council

†† and the housing team.

 

 

 

 

7.       NEXT STEPS: COMMUNICATION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DECISION

 

 

7.1        †††The availability of DHP is promoted through the Revenues and Benefits

†††team, customer services team, housing team, registered social landlords,

†† private sector landlords and local advice agencies and social media.

 

 

 

 

8.        REPORT APPENDICES

 

         Appendix 1: Discretionary Housing Payment Policy

         Appendix 2: Audit Report Discretionary Housing Payments

         Appendix 3: EqIA

 

9.        BACKGROUND PAPERS

 

None