Tag: DHP

Universal Credit is an unmitigated catastrophe for ill and disabled people

Image result for pictures universal credit

I co-run an online advice and support group for people going through Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claims, assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals. Recently there has been a spike in people being reassessed for their awards of both kinds of support much earlier than expected. Furthermore, many are seeing their longstanding awards being taken from them by the Department for Work and Pensions following the reassessment, when this is clearly unjustifiable.

Failing a work capability assessment usually triggers migration onto Universal Credit.

For example, a significant proportion of this group have chronic or degenerative illnesses that are not going to improve. If someone with such a condition is deemed unfit for work, or in need of extra support to meet their needs and maintain independence, given that it’s highly improbable that their condition will improve,  it’s more than unreasonably cruel that following review, these people have lost their awards, most often based on highly inaccurate reports from assessors and the Department’s decision makers.

One person received a letter notifying her of an early ESA review – it wasn’t due until next year – just days after she had seen her PIP award removed, following a review that was not due until 2021. 

Those people claiming Universal Credit (UC) and needing a work capability assessment because they have not previously received ESA are experiencing long delays (often around six months) before the assessment appointments are finally arranged. This is true even when there is clear evidence of ill health and/or disability, and it means people miss out on additional payments. Some are being subjected to conditionality and sanctions because they are being given inappropriate requirements to look for work while they wait for their assessment. 

A recurring problem with UC is the failure of DWP staff to include a limited capability for work (LCW) or limited capability for work related activity (LCWRA) element in a claim for Universal Credit for people moving from ESA, who had already been assessed as entitled to the equivalent element in ESA. These components are supposed to be automatically included in UC but people are reporting that it this is not happening.

Two people who had been claiming ESA for two or more years, both placed in the support group following their assessments, triggered ‘natural migration’ when they claimed Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) because of hardship. One person’s local council had wrongly made ‘non dependent’ deductions for her adult son, pushing her into hardship and rent arrears. As she was awarded PIP at the daily living rate, non dependent deductions should not have been made, as the standard daily living award exempts people from those deductions in this group of PIP  claimants.   

She later reported that non dependent deductions were wrongly taken from her UC housing element, also. She said that the problem arose because PIP awards are not logged on the system, which means that once the underpayments were eventually rectified, she still had to remind her advisor that she was exempt from non dependent deductions being made to her housing costs. The problem keeps arising, however, with some of the deductions still being made some months. She also told me that her mandatory review request was completely ignored.

The DHP application from both people in the support group triggered a move from existing benefits on to UC. When migrated from ESA on to UC, people in the ESA support group should be automatically awarded the extra element of UC (the ‘limited capability for work-related activity element’) and should not be required to undertake any work related activity. However this did not happen and both were refused this element. Another person was told, wrongly, that she would need to undergo another work capability assessment and another was asked to undertake inappropriate work related activities which he were unable to carry out because of his illness.  

Several others have also reported that they have submitted requests for mandatory review and not had any response. One person was told that they had to ring to request the review, rather than requesting it in writing. She was then told that because more than one month had passed since the decision she was challenging, she could not request a mandatory review. 

Special rules exist for terminally ill people who are expected to live less than six months, to fast-track their claims for support and to allow certain health-related payments to be paid at the highest rate without needing further assessment. One person applied for UC and was incorrectly told that there was no special rules provision under UC. She was asked to provide evidence that she could not carry out work related activities before she could receive the payments due to her and have her work related conditionality lifted, despite the fact she had submitted a DS 1500 report from her consultant.

Another person who is terminally ill told me that his advisor said there was no evidence that he had submitted a DS 1500 report. By this time, he had already waited seven weeks for his UC claim to be processed. He was still waiting for a PIP assessment date. 

Another problem arising for disabled people is that some are experiencing difficulty making new-style ESA claims (which are based on National Insurance contributions, rather than being income related) in ‘full service’ jobcentre areas, and are being wrongly advised to claim UC in circumstances where that is not required. 

One very vulnerable young person told me that he was flatly refused when he asked to claim the disability element of UC. His GP had told him he was unfit for work. His work coach said that he was “not allowed” to claim disability benefit under UC rules. He was sanctioned because he could not carry out  work related activities, which also had an impact on his partner. He needed support with a mandatory review request and his doctor submitted a report from the young man’s consultant. His sanction was overturned after seven weeks. That is seven weeks of hunger, fuel poverty and threats of eviction because of mounting rent arrears. 

Transitional protection for disabled people

The government recently announced transitional protections, include paying the Limited Capability for Work element in Universal Credit if someone has been continuously entitled to ESA and entitled to the Work-Related Activity Component in ESA prior to 3rd April 2017 and are migrated to Universal Credit. This means people with ESA awards after that date, or those making a new claim for UC will not get the disability income guarantee which is only provisionally available to others.

The government have recently postponed the migration of people who have a PIP award onto UC, because there is no transitional protection in place, which means people will lose their disability premium. Transitional protection of disabled peoples’ disability income guarantee is not due to come into effect until later this year (July). 

However, when people have a change in circumstances, they are automatically migrated onto UC. The change may include moving house, or a change in the amount of support you get, or someone joining or leaving your household. It’s been reported that changes to housing benefit awards – such as an increase, or a DHP award – have also triggered ‘natural migration’ onto UC. 

People who already claim Working Tax Credit and become ill are being asked to claim UC. Those who claim income-based jobseeker’s allowance and need to attend court or Jury Service, or are remanded in custody, are also being asked to claim UC.  If someone starts work that would normally entitle them to working tax credits, or if they work, but their hours drop below 16 hours a week, they will be asked to claim UC. If someone already claims Child Tax Credits and income based legacy benefits and starts work with enough hours to satisfy Working Tax Credit conditions, they will also be asked to claim UC.

A high court judgement last year said that the loss of disability premiums (the disability income guarantee) under UC is discriminatory and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The government conceded after some reluctance that they would ensure transitional protection is in place for people who receive the severe disability premium via their legacy benefits. However, there are three types of disability premium, and the government have so far only mentioned protecting one of them, though it is implied that the other premiums will be included. 

Many of us have said previously that the government’s ‘flagship’ failure, UC, is about implementing further cuts to social security support by stealth. However, the loss of income to disabled people through hidden cuts was under-reported. Last year I wrote about how the disability income guarantee that legacy benefits ensured had been removed from UC – Disability Income Guarantee abolished under Universal Credit rules – a sly and cruel cut.

The draft regulations setting out the managed migration process, including details of transitional protection, were consulted on by the Social Security Advisory Committee  (SSAC) in July 2018. The SSAC report and the Government’s response were published in November 2018. Some changes were made to the Regulations as a result of SSAC’s report. The draft regulations were also published on November 2018 and were expected to be debated in Parliament this month (January 2019.)

However, in the draft regulations, only one of the three disability rates is mentioned in the planned transitional provisions – the Severe Disability Premium (SDP). 

On the government site, it says there a three rates under ESA and/or PIP:

“Disability premium

You’ll get:

  • £33.55 a week for a single person
  • £47.80 a week for a couple

Severe disability premium

You’ll get:

  • £64.30 a week for a single person
  • £128.60 a week for a couple if you’re both eligible

Some couples will be eligible for the lower amount of £64.30 a week instead.

Enhanced disability premium

You’ll get:

  • £16.40 a week for a single person
  • £23.55 a week for a couple if at least one of you is eligible

You can get the disability premium on its own. You might get the severe or enhanced disability premium as well if you’re eligible for them. There are (complex) rules of eligibility which are outlined on the same site. For example, if you have a ‘non dependent’ child living with you, that makes you ineligible for the severe disability premium, but you may be entitled to one or both of the others.

If you get income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) you cannot get the disability premium, but you may still qualify for the severe and enhanced premiums.”

The draft regulations did not clarify whether all of the disability income guarantee rates will be included in the transitional protections arrangements. 

In a letter to the Social Security Advisory Committee, the government says of the new draft regulations: “They also introduce transitional protection payments and additional provisions to support existing and former Severe Disability Premium recipients.”

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions also says in the letter: “In designing Universal Credit, one of the key aims was to simplify the existing system. For people with health conditions and disabilities, a conscious choice was made not to replicate every aspect of disability provision in the current system, which contains 7 different disability payments. Instead, the right levels of support can be provided through 2 rates of payments, reflecting the current Employment and Support Allowance components.” [My emphasis]

The choice was originally to cut all disability premiums for those with a ‘change in circumstances’ and new claims. The hardships that this decision has caused were intentional. 

A House of Commons briefing paper entitled Universal Credit and the claimant count outlines why “Universal Credit is increasing the number of people claiming unemployment benefits, by requiring a broader group of claimants to look for work than was the case under Jobseeker’s Allowance.” 

However, UC also requires other groups of people who were previously exempt from conditionality to look for work, or to increase their hours and pay, if they already work.

This means that the increased application of conditionality and sanctions regime will affect families and couples, where one person – not necessarily the person who has made the claim – has been sanctioned. For the first time, UC will mean families who are in work but on low pay will also be subject to sanctioning if they don’t make efforts to increase their hours or pay. It’s not clear what provision is in place to safeguard children and vulnerable family members form the impact of severe hardship when a family member is sanctioned.

Furthermore, last year the government’s own research, together with a mass of other studies, have clearly demonstrated that sanctions do not work as the Conservatives claim they were intended to. Frank Field, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, accused ministers of trying to bury the findings of a secret DWP report, rather than give parliament the chance to debate how to better help low-paid workers. 

Field said if UC were to be built into a “line of defence against poverty, rather than an agent in its creation”, a more careful application of sanctions would require “urgent attention”.

He added: “Likewise, any new service to help the low-paid should be built around the provision by a dedicated caseworker of information, advice and guidance, as part of a clear and agreed contract which is aimed at helping them to earn more money and, crucially, overcoming the barriers that currently prevent them from being able to do so.” 

The government’s report came after a major report from the UK’s biggest food bank network found the rollout of UC would trigger an explosion in food bank use, with data showing that moving onto the new welfare support was the fastest growing cause of food bank referrals. The Trussell Trust said urgent changes to the new welfare system were needed to protect vulnerable claimants from falling into hardship or dropping out of the benefit system altogether. 

Garry Lemon, director of policy at the Trussell Trust, said: “We owe it to ourselves to have a benefits system that gives us support when we need it most, and ensures everyone has enough money to afford the absolute essentials. 

“Yet our research shows that the more people are sanctioned, the more they need foodbanks. On top of this, government’s own research shows that sanctioning under universal credit has no effect in encouraging people to progress in work. 

“With the next stage of universal credit about to rollout to three million people, it is vital that we learn from evidence on the ground and avoid the mistakes of the past.” 

Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said it was “shocking” that the government was sanctioning working people who are “just trying to do the right thing”.

She said: “This report shows that there is no evidence that sanctioning helps people increase their earnings. Meanwhile, wages are still below 2008 levels and millions of people are stuck in insecure work. 

“Universal credit is clearly failing in its current form. Labour is committed to a root-and-branch review of the social security system to ensure it tackles poverty and provides support when people need it.” 

In a damning report in 2016, the National Audit Office castigated the DWP for failing to monitor people whose benefits had been docked and suggested the system cost more money than it saved. 

Yet a DWP spokesperson said: “The ‘in work progression trials’ helped encourage claimants to increase their hours, seek out progression opportunities and take part in job-related training.

“The trials delivered positive results for many of the lowest paid people who claim universal credit and we are now considering the findings.” 

This is political gaslighting, which reveals a government’s intentions to continue implementing a draconian welfare policy, regardless of the significant and mounting empirical evidence – including from their own research – demonstrating this punitive does nothing to ‘support’ people into work, or into better paid jobs. In fact it prevents people from doing anything other than struggling to survive.

The briefing – Universal Credit and the claimant count  – says “In Full Service areas existing legacy benefit claimants may move onto Universal Credit if they experience a change of circumstances such that they would have had to make a new claim for a different legacy benefit. As new claims for legacy benefits are no longer possible, only Universal Credit can be claimed.  The DWP refers to this as “natural migration.”

“Existing legacy benefit claimants whose circumstances do not change will remain on their existing benefits until they are invited to make a claim for Universal Credit at the final “managed migration” stage. This is expected to begin in late 2020 and be completed by December 2023, but will be preceded by a managed migration pilot involving 10,000 households starting in July 2019.”

The briefing provides an outline of why the claimant count has risen in areas where UC has been rolled out:

“Universal Credit requires a broader span of people to look for work than was the case for legacy benefits.

“The introduction of Universal Credit means that more claimants are required to look for work as a condition of receiving the benefit. This is referred to as “conditionality”.

“For example, someone out of work who previously claimed Child Tax Credit or Housing Benefit but not Jobseeker’s Allowance was not required to look for work. Under Universal Credit they are required to look for work, subject to certain exceptions.

“Similarly, under Universal Credit, the partners of claimants are now required to seek work. Previously, if someone was in employment and claiming tax credits or housing benefits but their partner was not in work (and not claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance), there was no requirement for their partner to look for work. This is no longer the case, subject to an earnings threshold and certain exceptions.

“The OBR has estimated that conditionality will be extended to around 300,000 additional claimants.

“Additional conditionality will also be applied to Universal Credit claimants who would otherwise have received Education and Support Allowance (ESA), and the OBR has estimated that around 150,000 claimants will be required to look for work as a result. Furthermore, the OBR has forecast that around 450,000 newly-eligible Universal Credit claimants will face further additional conditionality requirements (though not necessarily an obligation to look for work).”

If people are not obliged to look for work, what is the point in imposing conditionality them?

And: “New claimants who are awaiting or appealing Work Capability Assessments are being required to look for work. Some of the claimants who under the legacy system would previously have claimed ESA are initially subject to all work-related
requirements upon starting a new claim to Universal Credit, pending their Work Capability Assessment.

“New ESA claimants who can provide a ‘fit note’ are treated as having a limited capacity for work pending their Work Capability Assessment. This is not the default position under Universal Credit.

“Although a claimant must meet with a Jobcentre Plus Work Coach within seven days of applying for Universal Credit to agree the conditions attached to their receipt of benefits, the period until a Work Capability Assessment takes place is often much longer. During this period, Work Coaches set conditionality based on their understanding of the claimant’s health condition, but there are concerns that Work Coaches may struggle to identify claimant support needs accurately.

“Those claimants who are required to look for work will be included in the claimant count statistics. We might expect some to drop out of the claimant count again once the Work Capability Assessment has taken place, assuming they are judged to have limited capability for work, but they can remain on full conditionality for an extended period (and thus remain in the claimant count statistics).”

And confirming the accounts of disabled people I have supported:

“In addition, there have been reports that some claimants moving from ESA onto Universal Credit who have limited capability for work are being required to undergo a new Work Capability Assessment, and in the meantime are subject to full conditionality. Under Regulation 19 of the Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/1230 as amended), these people should be treated, from the outset of their Universal Credit application, as having limited capacity for work without the need for a Work Capability Assessment. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has reported this as one of the most common problems highlighted by advisers.” 

It’s crossed my mind more than once that the sudden increase in early ESA and PIP reassessments may be linked to an aim to reduce the costs of the government’s unanticipated legal requirement to pay disabled and ill people transitional protection when they are migrated onto UC, or when they are forced to claim UC because of a change in circumstance – hence work coaches telling people in both ESA groups frequently that they have to undergo another assessment, when the rules state very clearly that they don’t.

The cases  I have highlighted here reflect only my most serious concerns about some of the consequences UC is having for ill and disabled people. It’s worrying that the problems I have outlined were not confined to just a couple of areas; the errors and problems seem to be entrenched on a systemic and national scale.



The rush to throw sick or disabled people off ESA and force them onto Universal Credit goes on while the DWP talks bollocks about support…



My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’DonatenowButton

Council told me to submit an FoI for the details of my housing benefit award and alleged DHP ‘overpayments’

Image result for Discretionary housing payments

Last year I fell into difficulties because my housing benefit was decreased. I struggled to make up the shortfall to pay my rent. I also had to pay council tax as my council tax benefit was reduced. I made an appointment with my local council welfare service, who advised me to claim Discretionary Housing Payments. They supported me in working out my monthly expenses and they found that I was over £200 a month short to meet my basic living costs, including rent. I was very ill at the time with a severe flare up of lupus and my mobility was extremely poor. 

The welfare service contacted occupational therapy on my behalf, and they organised an appointment for an assessment, and subsequently, for the provision of some aids and adaptations in my home because I often struggle getting about. The welfare service advised me to claim Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and supported me with my claim. I had such a distressing experience claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) in 2011, having to appeal the decision, then almost immediately after winning at tribunal, I was sent for a re-assessment, that I had put off claiming PIP for six years, even though I needed the support very much. The distress and strain caused by each assessment, including the one for PIP, has exacerbated my illness.

The housing team decided that Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) would be awarded for a year. This is a fairly standard award length. The DHP was to help cover the extra cost I had because of the deductions being made to my housing benefit while my son was at home. He took six months out from university because in February 2017 I developed pneumonia and sepsis. I was very seriously ill and almost died because I developed severe sepsis and septic shock. My son supported me after I came home from hospital, while I recovered, which took several months.

When I was awarded PIP, my housing benefit was amended and an increase in my award was backdated to the date of my claim for PIP. Because my son was staying at home, deductions had been made – the bedroom tax – because he was classed as a ‘non dependent’, even though he had no income for that period, as he is a student. The council tax charge arose because of the same reason. Although my rented property is a private one, my local council nonetheless call the non dependent deduction a bedroom tax. 

Councils are not allowed to make deductions for non dependents from people who have a PIP award with the daily living component. I came across this rule on the government site. I notified the council and explained the rule, as they didn’t seem to know about it. I was then reassessed and awarded the money that was deducted from my housing benefit for the bedroom tax, and the council backdated the amount they repaid to when I first made my PIP claim, which was from late July to April, 2017.

I received a letter explaining how my housing benefit had been worked out again. I then received a letter from the Discretionary Housing Payments section of the council, saying I had been overpaid DHP from April to July. This is because my housing benefit had increased and the increase was backpaid.

I was told I had to repay the DHP. It was deducted from my housing benefit without further discussion – leaving me short again for my rent and defeating the objective of DHP. I had claimed DHP early last year because of the bedroom tax shortfall. 

I was not informed about the rule that councils cannot make deductions for non dependents if someone is awarded the daily living component of PIP, I had to find that out myself. Nor did the council indicate that if my housing benefit was increased by the housing benefit section retrospectively, that would mean I may have to repay my DHP. I was not informed that if the housing benefit sector had made an error, I may be expected to repay the DHP awarded. However, the error occured through no fault on my part, so I ought to have challenged the claim of overpayment, but I did not know the rules about this at the time.

I was not informed at the time I made my claim for DHP that if I got my PIP award, my housing benefit would increase and that the increase would be backdated to the date of my PIP claim. It’s also reasonable to assume that the housing benefit office would have taken into account that I had a DHP award when they paid me the money for the  deductions they had made over that period. 

Money was taken from my housing benefit to recover the DHP, which left me in hardship again every month. This defeats the whole stated purpose of DHP awards.

However, I have since learned that DHP ‘overpayments’ are only deemed as such in certain circumstances, which are not applicable in my case. I should not have been asked to repay my DHP.

I also learned that deductions for overpayments CANNOT be made from ongoing housing benefit awards, Universal Credit awards or any other benefit. Housing benefit and DHP are seperate awards.

The council have violated rules that are clearly stated on the council’s own website as well as those set out in the government guidance for DHP

In a document called Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual on the government website, it says: “A DHP cannot be recovered from on-going HB or UC. This is unlike HB overpayments where there is a regulatory provision to allow recovery from on-going HB. There are also no provisions for the recovery of overpaid DHPs from other prescribed benefits.”

It also says:  “You can only recover a DHP if you decide that payment has been made
as a result of:

 a misrepresentation or failure to disclose a material fact by the claimant (either fraudulently or otherwise), or
 an error made when the application was determined.”

Neither of those criteria apply. When the application was determined, I was not in receipt of PIP. The bedroom tax and council tax deductions were being made, and that  predated my application for DHP and was not through any fault of my own. The non dependent deductions continued until after I had notified the council of my PIP award, and I had to inform them of the rule about PIP daily living component and non dependent deductions myself before they reassessed my claim, because I read the rules about this on the government PIP website last year. 

I was then awarded the total amount that had been deducted for a ‘non dependent.’ I had to ring several times before the council tax I had paid was given back. The council had not even considered repaying me those deductions. I was not informed at any time that I may be asked to repay any of the DHP award, and I think it is fair to assume that the housing benefit department took the DHP award into account when they made their decision to pay me the deductions they had taken, and when they calculated the amount I was owed. 

The DHP section claimed I was overpaid despite the fact that this doesn’t tally with government guidelines, which outline what circumstances may be defined as an overpayment. None of the criteria applied to the circumstances of my claim. The guidance states that if the claimant has not contributed to an error, then they should not be asked to repay any DHP. 

The money was deducted from my housing benefit award from towards the end of last year, and throughout most of this year – I had to ring and ask for the weekly deductions to be reduced early this year as they were causing me hardship. The minimum deduction the DHP section said they could make was £10 per week, and they had been taking £20 per week.

It seems the council are not aware of the rules that apply to non deductions and PIP, or to DHP awards and the rule that says ‘recovery’ cannot be made by making deductions to ongoing housing benefit/Universal Credit. But it is too late for me to query or challenge the recovery as all of that DHP award period has now been taken from my housing benefit. I only found the government DHP guidelines this year, because another problem has arisen.

It seems that people who claim any support have to become welfare specialists in order to understand the rules and guidelines because many administrative authorities don’t seem to know them. Or perhaps they know about them but are reluctant to apply them until they have to.

Yet today I checked the council’s website and found a section on DHP administration, and the rules I have cited here are clearly written in their own guidlelines. 

It gets worse: another error

From April this year, the council had been making more ‘non dependent’ deductions for my other son who, they now tell me, was assumed to have left home because he was in university. That, they told me, left me with a ‘spare room’. The council did not tell me they had reduced my payments, or provide any explanation. The DHP section were also making deductions from my housing benefit, though my award from DHP was ended at the time. That is not supposed to happen according to the government and my local council’s rules.

The government guidelines say that if there is a deemed overpayment of DHP, it cannot be deducted from an ongoing housing benefit or universal credit award. I did not know this at the time, and the deductions continued until September, when I rang the council to ask why my housing benefit payments were so low, leaving me with a huge shortfall to find for my rent. I did know about the DHP deductions, but had assumed that the council were acting according to the rules. They told me that my son had left home and gone to university. I explained that he had not. Again. 

My youngest son left university last September. While he was at university, he returned home out of term times, and was therefore legally classed as living at home. 

The council had previously assumed my older son had left home too when he first went to university, but I found the rule on the government website that says if students return home – out of term times, for example – then they are legally classed as living at home and non dependent deductions cannot be made in these circumstances.

I challenged the decision to reduce my housing benefit at that time, because the council benefit office notified me of their intention. They ended the deductions for the ‘spare room’, because I provided evidence that my son returned home outside of term times.

However, I had NO notification about the decision to deduct money from my housing benefit for my younger son – a ‘bedroom tax’ – or any explanation why my benefit was reduced. He returned home out of term times (so was legally classed as living at home) and anyway, the dates that the housing benefit office applied the bedroom tax, my son had already left university and returned home permanently. As I am in receipt of PIP daily care component, they cannot make deductions for a ‘non dependent’ from my housing benefit. 

I challenged the underpayments and was paid the money that was deducted, again, as it was the councils’ mistake because they did not notify me about why they were making deductions, and gave me no opportunity to challenge the decision.

With the recent letter explaining how the reimbursment had been worked out from the housing benefit section, there was a notification from DHP section dated 25 September this year, thanking me for a claim I never made this year – they had retrospectively made an award and backdated it to last year, which I thought was very odd at the time I got the bundle of documents in the post.

Now, low and behold DHP section are claiming once again that I have been ‘overpaid’ for the period they retrospectively made the award (my rent allowance was more than £60 a month short at the time leaving me with more than £80 per month to find for my rent. DHP administrators now say they want more than half of what I was reimbursed by the housing benefit section back. However, as far as I was aware, that reimbursement was my shortfall in housing benefit, FROM the housing benefit office, which is not the same thing as DHP. The council can’t tell me what deductions had been made by DHP section and what deductions were made for the bedroom tax from the beginning of April to September this year

Going through my bank statements, I can see something isn’t right with what the DHP section are claiming because it doesn’t seem that I was paid the DHP for the most recent period. The amounts I received for housing costs were way too low, even accounting for the deductions for my son, made in error on the housing benefit sections’ part. And the housing benefit section would surely not reimburse DHP payments as they are seperate thing. Yet DHP section claim I have been ‘paid twice’. To complicate things further, DHP were making deductions from my housing benefit over some of this period too for the previous ‘overpayment’. 

I went through the housing benefit amounts I was originally paid on my bank statement over the last year and a half. The amounts I got over the period varied. Up until late September, 2017, it was clear that I was getting DHP, as the shortfall between my housing benefit and rent was £50. Then my overall housing benefit amount dropped by a further £20 fortnightly. This is the period that DHP now claim I was ‘overpaid’, yet I can’t see any evidence they actually paid me my award over this time span on my bank statement.

It’s very confusing and the lack of transparency regarding payment details means that I am struggling to work out exactly what was deducted for bedroom tax, what DHP were deducting at the time, and what they were actually paying me, since they claim they were making payments.

I asked the council yesterday for a breakdown of information regarding this matter yesterday and I was advised, unbelievably, to submit a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

I’m not sure that people can submit FoIs about themselves. I think he probably meant meant a Data Subject Access Request (SAR), on reflection. However it should not be down to me to have to inform the council of the rules they ought to be following and to have to interpret badly worded advice. It’s reasonable to expect that council advisors give correct information and advice. 

In any event, bearing in mind that I have a month to submit my request for a review, and SARs often take quite a bit of time (and there’s no guarantee that the information will be provided), I think this was absolutely appalling advice. I asked for a precise breakdown of my payments and deductions – something you would expect a council to provide as a matter of transparency and as reasonable practice, and was subsequently presented with bureaucratic barriers to accessing that information.

The advisor I spoke to seemed as confused as me. I told him that DHP section are not permitted to make deductions from my ongoing housing benefit award, and he asked me where I got that information from. He then claimed that DHP can be deducted from a DHP award, implying that is what has happened. However, I pointed out that my DHP award had ended in April 2018 (it was awarded for one year) and DHP had been making deductions since then until October this year. He fell silent at that point. 

On my local council’s website, it says: “Where a DHP is found to have been overpaid the Benefit Service will consider whether it is appropriate to recover it in full, in part or not at all. As a general rule overpayments caused by official error will not be recovered, unless the customer caused or contributed to the error or was aware that too much was being paid.”

I did not cause or contribute to the error, nor was I aware if too much was paid or not.

It also says: “Notifications to the customer on overpaid DHP’s shall offer the opportunity
to seek a re-consideration.

63. Under no circumstances will recovery be sought for DHP from housing
benefit payments or universal credit payments due to the customer.”

So the advisor was claiming to be unaware of the council’s own rules, and furthermore, the council HAVE made deductions from my housing benefit award for DHP ‘overpayment’ from April to September this year when the council’s own rules state clearly that DHP administrators should not do so. 

It also says on the council’s website: “DHP overpayments can be written off in accordance with the authority’s current write off policy.”

If the council don’t consider that is an option in my case, as a disabled person who has been deemed ‘vulnerable’, it is highly unlikely they will for others in similar circumstances. 

I have now received an invoice for the amount DHP claims I was overpaid. However, the invoice has defined the overpayment as ‘housing benefit’, which is of course incorrect. I have been given 7 days to pay the amount. 

DHPs are discretionary and not subject to the statutory appeals mechanism, but they are subject to mandatory review.

Reading the government guidelines, the options available to DHP administrators are to a involve a debt collection agency and/or to take me to court if I don’t/can’t pay. I can’t pay. 

The council have told me to write a ‘complaint’. I was not informed of any further options.

However, reading the government guidlelines, my options are to ask for a review. If the matter is unresolved after that, I may then refer this matter to an independent council ombudsman. I can also ask for a judicial review. 

I shall be pursuing each of those options as necessary, if the situation remains unresolved.

I’m an ill and disabled person in receipt of PIP and the ESA support component. The council health and adult care section have assessed me and provided aids and adaptions in my home. The support I received from the council’s welfare service and occupational therapy has been excellent.

The housing benefit and DHP offices, however, have let me down very badly. My claim for DHP has actually increased my hardship in the longer term, and rather than mitigating the effects of government welfare reform and alleviating consequential hardships that affect vulnerable people, as intended, it has made my situation worse and caused me a significant amount of confusion, anxiety and distress.

I suffer with cognitive difficulties because of my illness, and trying to sort out mistakes made by the council and research the rules that the council ought to know about and apply has been both extremely stressful and difficult. I lost a night of sleep going through my bank statements yesterday. All of these events have seriously undermined my trust in the housing benefit and DHP offices, as these mistakes span over 2 years.

All of this very clearly highlights just how unfit for purpose government provision for ‘those most in need’ actually is.

I have two children, one still at university, both still live at home. I think that the political term ‘non dependents’ is a particularly nasty and authoritarian redefinition of adult children in poorer families, that undermines family bonds and attempts to redefine family relationships in terms of financial arrangements.

Neither of my younger sons can be defined as ‘non dependent’ because they still need a lot of financial and other kinds of support from me. I have a modestly sized 3 bedroomed house which has been adapted to meet my needs. There are no ‘spare rooms’, and my rent is actually relatively low. That said, the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) has been frozen for some years now, which means people like me have a large shortfall between the amount of housing benefit they can claim and the rent costs. 

The bedroom tax was a particularly spiteful Conservative policy aimed at the poorest citizens, and it has disproportionately affected disabled people. It’s a very authoritarian government that feels comfortable dictating the precise amount of living space some citizens are permitted, but then does not make any further provision to ensure that people can actually meet those mean spirited specifications. 

Image result for discretionary housing benefit reasons for awards



Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to support others.



Why private landlords are calling for ‘major overhaul’ of Universal Credit, many refuse to let properties to ‘high risk’ universal credit claimants

A 2011 survey found the most common reasons for landlords to refuse tenants were antisocial behaviour, unpaid rent and damage.

Earlier this year, research by Heriot-Watt University highlighted that England has a backlog of 3.91 million homes, meaning 340,000 new homes need to be built each year until 2031. This figure is significantly higher than the government’s current target of 300,000 homes annually. 

The findings comes as rough sleeping has risen by 169 per cent since 2010, while the number of households in temporary accommodation is on track to reach 100,000 by 2020 unless the government takes steps to deliver more private, intermediate and social housing. The annual Homelessness Monitor shows that 70 per cent of local authorities in England are struggling to find any stable housing for homeless people in their area, while a striking 89 per cent reported difficulties in finding private rented accommodation.

Affordability is a big issue in the private rented sector and a major hurdle to many prospective tenants. The way in which housing benefit is calculated for private tenants has changed drastically in the decade, due to the introduction of the Local Housing Allowance system, (LHA), the erosion of both housing benefit and council tax support and the continued government cuts the welfare system. These changes have made some landlords wary and reluctant to rent to tenants in receipt of benefits.

Most tenants receive significantly less housing benefit than they are expected to pay in rent. While there is some conditional support available for some tenants, in the form of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP), landlords say they are concerned about what they see as an increased risk of rent defaults amongst tenants relying on benefit payments. DHP is a solution only for the short term. 

Evidence in England shows that increasing numbers of private landlords are not renting to Housing Benefit claimants. The National Landlords Association gave evidence to the House of Commons Works and Pensions Committee stating that “…in the last three years there has been a 50% drop in the number of landlords taking people who are on benefits. It is now down to only one fifth; 22% of our landlord members whom we surveyed say they have LHA tenants, and 52% of those surveyed said they would not look at taking on benefits tenants.”

There are also significant worries that the impact of Universal Credit will make renting to people claiming housing benefit even less attractive to landlords. 

The Residential Landlord Association (RLA) have called for an urgent overhaul of how universal credit is paid, as more than half of landlords applied for the benefit to be paid to them instead of the tenant, which, on average, took more than two months to arrange.

David Smith, RLA policy director, said: “Our research shows clearly that further changes are urgently needed to universal credit. 

We welcome the constructive engagement we have had with the government over these issues but more work is needed to give landlords the confidence they need to rent to those on universal credit.

“The impact of the announcements from the autumn budget last year remain to be seen. However, we feel a major start would be to give tenants the right to choose to have payments paid directly to their landlord.”

As well as meaning claimants could get into debt, the system serves to dissuade private landlords from taking on universal credit tenants.

Last year, research carried out by Politics.co.uk revealed that private landlords across the country are refusing to rent out properties to people who claim Universal Credit. Sixty-nine per cent of estate agents contacted in areas where the new benefit has been rolled out said they had no landlords currently on their books who would accept Universal Credit claimants.

The head of policy at the National Landlords Association (NLA), Chris Norris said:

While the NLA supports the concepts behind Universal Credit, it is clearly divorced from the realities of many tenants’ lives. Problems with its implementation and caps to housing benefit mean that many landlords now view letting to tenants in receipt of housing benefit or Universal Credit as high risk, because they simply do not have the confidence that rent will be paid to them on time.” 

I can’t help wondering precisely which ‘concepts behind Universal Credit’ the NLA actually supports, given the acknowledgement that it clearly isn’t meeting ‘many tenant’s’ needs.

Anti-discrimination legislation protects people from both direct and indirect discrimination.  Indirect discrimination occurs where a policy, which is not discriminatory in itself, if likely to impact disproportionately on people who are protected under the Equality Act.  Some people may argue that this type of policy could be seen as indirect discrimination if, for example, housing benefit claimants were predominantly female, disabled or predominantly from an ethnic minority group. However, this type of discriminatory practice can be legal if it can be reasonably justified.  

A landlord whose mortgage lender imposed certain conditions on him or her would be justified in adopting this practice, and some mortgage lenders already refuse to give mortgages to buy-to-let landlords with tenants who claim welfare support..

Several major lenders have denied rumours that they are planning to refuse to offer mortgages to buy-to-let landlords with tenants claiming universal credit. A survey of almost 3,000 landlords with universal credit claimants as tenants by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) in March and April 2017 showed 38 per cent experienced tenants going into rent arrears – up from 27 per cent in 2016. The average amount at the time owed in rent arrears by universal credit tenants to private sector landlords was £1,150, the RLA stated. 

However, now claimants owe on average almost £2,400 in rent payments, an increase of nearly 50 per cent on the previous year, where the figure was around £1,600, the RLA have said.. Almost two thirds of private landlords have seen tenants receiving universal creditfall into rent arrears, new research shows, amid growing concern the new benefit system is pushing people into poverty.

At the time of the survey those claiming Universal Credit faced at least a six-week wait before receiving their first payment, meaning they are already two months in rent arrears by the time of the first payment, the RLA stated.

Paul Shamplina, founder of eviction service Landlord Action, told FT Adviser: “The landlords we speak to on a daily basis through our advice line are increasingly concerned because for many, rent arrears could mean they fail to meet their own obligations to lenders.  

“Some lenders are even stipulating buy-to-let loans will not be available where tenants are ‘benefit dependent’ and so as a result, landlords are focusing on private tenants where they can achieve higher rents and the risk of arrears is less.

Many lenders do not lend to landlords with tenants who are welfare recipients, but a number of those that do said they had no plans to change their policies as a result of the switch to universal credit.

However, the State-backed lender NatWest told one of its private landlord customers to evict a vulnerable tenant because she was claiming housing benefits or pay up thousands of pounds in early repayment charges and find another lender. This was after digital broker Habito admitted incorrectly advising the customer. 

Helena McAleer was reduced to tears after NatWest said she had breached her mortgage terms by letting her two-bedroom property in Belfast to a tenant in receipt of support from the state. The tenant is an older woman, who suffers from mental health problems and would struggle with the moving process, according to McAleer.

McAleer was given the harsh ultimatum of making her tenant homeless or footing a £2,500 bill to leave the NatWest deal, after asking for a further advance from the lender.

She told Mortgage Solutions: “I was angry at the fact that another human being could ask me to kick out another human being.

“It was very black and white…  they don’t think about that person, you’re just an anonymised piece of data… that’s what hurt me, that’s not fair.”

She added: “[The tenant] is a vulnerable older lady, she has mental health issues; I’m not putting her out on the street.”

The marketing innovation manager remortgaged to NatWest in January through broker Habito, providing information about her tenant’s situation to the digital adviser.

But when she approached NatWest about taking money out of the property to buy in London in September, the lender said it had not been disclosed that the tenant was in receipt of government support.

McAleer refused to remove the tenant and asked NatWest to reconsider.

The tenant has been in place since 2016 and is set to stay for the foreseeable future.

McAleer said: “I have no doubt the tenant will be there for many years which, as a landlord, is great to know.

“Long-term security and payments, I couldn’t ask for a better tenant.”

But NatWest said it would not change its position.

A spokeswoman for the lender said: “The bank has specific lending criteria and is not able to offer mortgages in certain circumstances, including where the applicant or broker has advised they want to let the accommodation to Department of Social Security tenants.

“There are specialist providers who are better suited for customers in this circumstance.”

Habito admitted that it should not have advised McAleer to take out a deal with NatWest.

The digital broker is to pay any early repayment charges, as well as additional costs including new mortgage fees and charges.

A spokeswoman for Habito said: “We are aware of this issue and have been working with Ms McAleer to resolve it.

“We fully acknowledge that the buy-to-let mortgage product we initially advised her on was not appropriate, in light of Natwest’s policy on DSS tenants.

[It’s clear this policy has been in place some time, as the ‘DSS’ is no more, and was replaced with the DWP some years back.]

“With that, however, we are currently advising Ms McAleer on a remortgage and we will be bearing all the costs associated with it.

“Ms McAleer will not be financially impacted by this, nor will she need to make any changes relating to her current tenants.

“Great customer service is of the utmost importance to us at Habito and we look forward to resolving this matter swiftly and to Ms McAleer’s complete satisfaction.”

Lenders with outdated acronyms and outdated attitudes

If you check out the rental listings on websites such as Rightmove, or browse the window of your local lettings agent, you will often see “No DSS”. It means the landlord or agent won’t rent a property to someone on housing benefit or local housing allowance, though some younger readers might not even know what “DSS” stands for (it’s Department of Social Security, and was replaced by the Department for Work and Pensions 16 years ago).

 A number of brokers told Mortgage Solutions it is difficult to find deals for landlords with tenants on benefits. 

Too many lenders have “draconian criteria” based on ‘particular views’ of tenants on benefits, according to Steve Olejnik, managing director of Mortgages for Business.

He said: “It’s a very outdated view of the type of property that attracts people on benefits… that they’re not going to look after the property properly and therefore going to potentially damage the security.

“I just think it’s wrong.”

Whether a tenant is claiming benefits shouldn’t affect the risk of the mortgage, so in theory there is no reason why banks or building societies will not lend, Olejnik added.

He said: “Lenders are underwriting the landlord. A decision to lend should be based on the borrower’s credit profile and ability to pay along with the quality of the security provided.

“It is irrelevant whether the tenant is in receipt of benefits and should not add any bearing to the risk decision.”

Olejnik has called for legislation to stop lenders discriminating against tenants.

Simon Nunn, executive director of member services at the National Housing Federation, said: “While there are still a handful of lenders that operate these kinds of outdated policies, the majority have abandoned these restrictions.

“Rightly, they recognise that banning tenants on housing benefit is both unfair and unenforceable, based on false assumptions and stigma attached to people who receive welfare support.

“We’d encourage all lenders to follow suit by scrapping these restrictions – there needs to be a step-change across the sector to get away from the view that tenants on housing benefit are unwelcome.

“This needs to be matched by renewed commitments from letting agents, insurers, landlords themselves and the government that they will not allow people on housing benefit to be excluded from the rental market.”

Shelter has a guide on convincing a landlord to rent to you. It says local councils may keep lists of private landlords who accept tenants on housing benefit, and that some websites such as SpareRoom allow you to select a “DSS OK” filter. There is also a website called Dssmove that connects tenants with agents and landlords “that say yes to DSS”.

Smartmove can also help tenants make a claim for housing benefit and Discretionary Housing Payments.

The House of Commons Library has produced a briefing on this issue. 


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights if you like by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles and to provide support to others.