Agenda item

Agenda item

Discretionary Housing Payment Policy

Cabinet, at its meeting on 09 September, will consider a report on the Discretionary Housing Payment Policy. This item provides  the Committee with an opportunity to comment on the report and make recommendations to Cabinet if it wishes.

Marie Tidball, Cabinet Member for Supporting Local Communities;Paul Wilding, Rough Sleeping and Single Homelessness Manager; and Richard Wood, Strategy & Service Development Manager, have been invited to attend for this item.


Cllr MarieTidball, Cabinet Member for Supporting Local Communities,  introduced the report. The current version of the policy had been introduced in 2013 against a backdrop of significant welfare reform and underpinned by a drive to prevent homelessness.  In 2019/2, for example, 602 Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) applications had been made of which 85% had been successful however it had become apparent that the policy needed to be revisited in the light of the economic consequences of Covid-19. She paid tribute to the work of the Welfare Reform Team not just in relation to this report and the application of the DHPP but also their wider work in supporting vulnerable members of the community. 

Paul Wilding, Rough Sleeping & Single Homelessness Manager, reminded the Committee that the DHPP was discretionary. It deliberately left some room for flexibility of implementation, neither absolutely ruling any particular set of circumstances in or out. This flexibility assisted in getting the help to those who most needed it. It was recognised that, in parallel with the flexibility, there was a need to ensure consistency of decision making. This was addressed by the way in which officers in the Welfare Reform Team cross-checked their decisions with one another (particularly in relation to more complex cases) and the regular review of a 10% case sample.

The Committee noted the challenge of identifying those who were likely to be entitled to DHP given that the Department of Work and Pensions does not share information about those who are in receipt of Universal Credit (UC). It was explained that notwithstanding this challenge, great efforts were made locally (e.g. liaison with the Job Centre) and the better use of other local data to identify those who might benefit. Representations continued to be made to Government about the need for data about UC entitlement to be made available to the council.

The application of conditions as a requirement for the provision of DHP was determined on a flexible basis to best meet the circumstances of a particular applicant, this would, on occasions, mean the application of more than one condition.

The Committee noted the challenges for some members of the community in accessing or applying for DHP. This was of particular concern for those for whom English was not their first language and or did not have access to the internet. The position had been made worse by the absence of Advice Centres serving some parts of the city. It was agreed that access to a drop in facility with access to translation would be helpful as would data about the access to DHP by the BAME community.

Members of the Committee were reminded that if they came across any particular cases where access to the service was proving difficult they should bring them to the attention of the Welfare Reform Team or Cllr Tidball.

It was suggested that there would be merit in wider advertising/communication about the availability of DHP. It was however noted that wider communication had been shown in the past to generate considerable levels of interest (and applications) from those who failed to appreciate the limitations of the scheme and who were therefore ineligible.

The default duration of an initial award of DHP for three months focused an applicant’s approach to its associated condition(s) which would be lacking if   the period was longer.

The Welfare Reform Team was preparing a forecast of likely need for DHP over the next year and this would inform a message from Cllr Tidball to Government, pressing for the provision of an adequate level of grant for this purpose.

It was AGREED to make the following recommendations to Cabinet:

1.    That the Council reviews how non-English speakers access advice services, including the suitability of current arrangements for advice services grant-funded by the Council, and the case for providing an in-person translation booth service in East Oxford.

2.    That the Council develops a plan to monitor the ethnicity of DHP applicants with a view to identifying particular communities where claims are unexpectedly low.

3.    That the Council refreshes its communications plan around DHP to ensure all stakeholders are promoting it and more eligible people are aware of it and how to access it.


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