Analysis of written responses to the consultation on social security in Scotland

Analysis of responses to a public consultation to inform the content of the new Scottish Social Security Bill.

11. Discretionary Housing Payments

Proposals for Discretionary Housing Payments

11.1 The Scottish Government set out its proposals for discretionary housing payments ( DHPs) in Part 2 of the consultation document.

Question - Could the way that DHPs are currently used be improved? Please explain why?

Table 11.1 Could the way that DHPs are currently used be improved?
Yes No
Respondent group Number % Number % Total
Individuals 38 67% 19 33% 57
Organisations 66 93% 5 7% 71
All respondents answering 104 81% 24 19% 128

Note: A full breakdown of responses by respondent group is included in Annex 2 (available to download separately as part of this publication).

11.2 A total of 128 respondents answered the closed part of this question. Most respondents (81%) thought that the way that DHPs are currently used could be improved. Organisations were more likely than individuals to say 'yes'. There was overall support from across respondent groups answering this question.

11.3 Further comments were provided by 127 respondents (47 individuals and 80 organisations). Explanations for answers to the closed part generally related to reasons for answering 'yes', which are discussed in detail below.

11.4 The main themes discussed were:

  • use of DHPs to mitigate the under occupancy penalty; and
  • the time frame for payment of DHP.

Use of DHPs to mitigate the under occupancy penalty

11.5 The main reason for suggesting that the way that DHPs are currently used needs to improve was that they currently focus too much on managing the impact of the under occupancy penalty (commonly known as the 'bedroom tax'). While there was support for continuing this role, respondents answering 'yes' called for wider use and potentially increased funding to accommodate this. These issues are discussed here in further detail.

11.6 Generally, respondents were in favour of the Scottish Government continuing to mitigate the under occupancy penalty ('bedroom tax').

" PCS support the Scottish Government's proposals for these areas which seek to continue offsetting the hated 'bedroom tax' at local authority level."
Public and Commercial Services ( PCS) Union

11.7 However, there were concerns that this was becoming the only use of the DHP budget, to the detriment of claimants who might previously been able to claim it for other reasons. Local authority respondents in particular were keen that DHPs are not seen as a long term solution to mitigating against reserved benefit changes.

"Consideration should be given to using DHP to focus equally on all the elements of housing need and welfare reforms."

"The current need to fully mitigate bedroom tax via DHP, disproportionately impacts on the ability to support other areas of pressure."
East Ayrshire Council

"Discretionary Housing Payments were not intended to be used to mitigate against the bedroom tax. We hope that once the bedroom tax is abolished they can be used once again for their intended use."
The Poverty Alliance

"Because of the historic and current focus on the bedroom tax, the original purpose of DHPs, to provide discretionary, temporary assistance with housing costs in exceptional circumstances, has been overlooked."
Scottish Federation of Housing Associations

11.8 A few respondents were in favour of managing Universal Credit payments in such a way that DHPs do not need to be used to alleviate bedroom tax. However, they noted that this could take until 2022 (when all recipients will have moved to Universal Credit) and mitigation of the bedroom tax through DHPs will still need to be managed in the interim period. Generally, there were concerns that the DHP will not meet the rising demands due to continuing welfare reform and a challenging economic environment.

"At present majority of DHP pot is used to cover bedroom tax. This means there is very little in the pot to help those who are truly struggling financially and this is wrong. Those struggling financially should have priority access to the fund. Local authorities no longer have the budgets to help top these funds up. My fear is that those struggling financially get no additional assistance and are more at risk of losing their home for rent arrears. DHP funds should be on basis of need in order for it to be open and fair."

11.9 Some respondents hoped that once the under occupancy penalty was fully eliminated, DHPs would be available for a wider range of temporary support (as originally intended) such as preventing homelessness and facilitating people into secure, sustainable, permanent housing. More generally, some respondents felt that there should more information and increased awareness amongst the public about DHPs, who is eligible and how to apply.

Payment of DHPs

11.10 A few respondents mentioned the need for a more predictable system of payments, both for claimants and distributors of DHPs. They felt that people could not depend on DHPs to support them in a time of need due to the discretionary nature of the payment, and the time taken to reach a decision. They also mentioned that it might be helpful if local authorities were provided with their DHP budget annually, rather than in instalments throughout the year. Respondents recognised that being distributed locally at the discretion of individual local authorities meant that the fund could support local needs. However, some felt that this led to considerable inconsistencies and would prefer for there to be national level guidelines implemented consistently at a local level.

"By definition this is discretionary, which leads to a post code lottery, with wide variations on payments between different local authorities. There is no consistency on who gets DHP from one local authority to the next."
Scottish Socialist Party

"To allow for complete equality in the award of DHP it should not be left to local authority discretion over how they assess claims or how much is awarded. This could result in a 'post code lottery' with disparities in who is helped and by how much depending on where applicants live."

11.11 A few respondents suggested that the Scottish Government could create a new benefit to support people with housing costs, leaving the DHP available for temporary support.

"The SFHA therefore suggests that the Scottish Government should use its powers to create a new and separate benefit that mitigates the shortcomings in the UK support for housing costs, including the bedroom tax, the removal of entitlement to Housing Benefit for young people under 21 and the restrictions in entitlement to those under 35 under the LHA cap proposals."
Scottish Federation of Housing Associations

11.12 A few respondents from organisations representing young people suggested that DHPs might be used to help support people aged 18-21 receiving Universal Credit, as they will no longer be automatically entitled to receive the housing element.

11.13 A few respondents wanted DHPs to be more easily available for a wider range of uses (such as fuel costs and maintenance and servicing of home adaptations) and for a wider range of people such as:

  • care leavers;
  • young people and single people;
  • vulnerable women moving out of refuge centres or unsafe environments;
  • people spending time hospital;
  • people receiving Housing Benefit and renting through the private sector; and
  • people not receiving Housing Benefit, but who are in need of support to maintain a tenancy, such as students.

Reasons for answering 'no'

11.14 A few respondents said that DHPs are working well and there was no need for change.

"Seems to work so why change it?"

Question - Could the administration of DHP applications be improved? Please explain why.

Table 11.2 Could the administration of DHP applications be improved?
Yes No
Respondent group Number % Number % Total
Individuals 35 74% 12 26% 47
Organisations 61 95% 3 5% 64
All respondents answering 96 86% 15 14% 111

Note: A full breakdown of responses by respondent group is included in Annex 2 (available to download separately as part of this publication).

11.15 In total 111 respondents answered the closed part of this question. Most respondents (86%) felt that the administration of DHP applications could be improved. There was overall support from across respondent groups answering this question.

11.16 Further comments were provided by 100 respondents (36 individuals and 64 organisations).

11.17 Respondents reiterated similar points raised earlier in regard to DHPs. The main issues raised around the administration of DHPs were:

  • the time taken to process applications;
  • inconsistencies between, and sometimes within, local authorities; and
  • the need for a simpler, more efficient process.

"There is general agreement that DHPs need to remain flexible in order to reflect local circumstances and priorities. However, there is also a need to ensure that decisions are fair and transparent. Clear, accessible information about what can be covered by DHPs could help people to understand what DHPs can be awarded for and help them to make an application."
Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland

The time taken to process applications

11.18 Respondents wanted administration to be quicker so that people receive the support they need when they need it. Ideally, payment should be made before people fall into debt or rent arrears, and quickly enough to allow people to place a deposit on a rental property before it leaves the market.

"It is essential for eligible tenants to be able to access funds for their landlords as quickly as possible when problems occur, for continuity of their tenancy."

"You cannot apply for DHP for rent top up until you receive your award letter confirming you actually have a rent shortfall which puts clients into debt with their rent at the very start and the DHP processing time can be up to 4 weeks."
CEMVO Scotland

11.19 Respondents also said that DHPs could be improved by reducing the need to reapply regularly, particularly when it is clear that a situation is not going to change, for example, the under occupancy penalty.

Inconsistencies in administration

11.20 Respondents reiterated that there were variations in how DHPs were administered across Scotland. They noted that qualification for DHPs depends on the time of year that a person applies and how much money is remaining in the local authority budget.

11.21 In response to the variations and inconsistencies in DHP administration, a few respondents suggested that administration should be at a national level, or that there should be a national framework guiding local administration. Local authority respondents, however, felt that administration should remain local to account for specific local needs.

Efficiency and simplicity

11.22 A few respondents discussed the potential for better data sharing to confirm eligibility for DHPs and potentially automate payments relating to the under occupancy charge, local housing allowance caps or benefit caps.

11.23 A few respondents discussed the possibility of combining or integrating DHPs into other social security benefits, using it to top up other benefit shortfalls, synchronising the timing of payments with Universal Credit and paying directly to the landlord.

11.24 A few respondents said that administration could be improved by more training for frontline staff so they are knowledgeable and informed about recent welfare reforms and are sensitive to equality and poverty issues.

Question - Does the guidance for local authorities on DHPs need amending? Please explain why.

Table 11.3 Does the guidance for local authorities on DHPs need amending?
Yes No
Respondent group Number % Number % Total
Individuals 18 45% 22 55% 40
Organisations 33 60% 22 40% 55
All respondents answering 51 54% 44 46% 95

Note: A full breakdown of responses by respondent group is included in Annex 2 (available to download separately as part of this publication).

11.25 A total of 95 respondents answered the closed part of this question. Views were fairly mixed. Overall, just over half (54%) thought that the guidance for local authorities on DHPs needs to be amended, but a substantial minority (46%) disagreed. Organisations were slightly more likely than individuals to say 'yes'. Almost all of the disagreement came from local authority respondents, the majority of whom (72%) disagreed.

11.26 Further explanation was provided by 85 respondents (29 individuals and 56 organisations).

Reasons for answering 'yes'

11.27 Respondents who said 'yes', felt that amending the guidance would help to:

  • improve consistency in DHP delivery;
  • improve awareness and understanding of DHPs and eligibility;
  • increase the use of DHPs beyond mitigating the under occupancy penalty; and
  • ensure that DHPs are used as broadly and as fairly as possible.

11.28 As before, a few respondents felt that guidance should be at national level and should provide a consistent approach for timescales and decision making procedures.

Reasons for answering 'no'

11.29 Local authority respondents broadly (most of which answered no) felt that current guidance was adequate, as it gives them discretion to allocate DHPs according to local needs.

" DHP can be subject to criticism and can be accused of being a "postcode lottery" however the scheme is designed to assist individuals based on their individual circumstances and needs. Treating everyone the same across the country irrespective of the housing affordability and availability in their area may create a system that is more unequal. Treating people equally is often not achieved by treating people in the same way."
Perth and Kinross Council

"We agree that Discretionary Housing Payments should continue to be managed by local councils and on the same basis as now. We believe that the connection to local housing services and the responsiveness to local circumstances are an important feature of these payments. However, we also recognise the concerns expressed by some advice and third sector agencies about consistency in decision making both locally and nationally."
The Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers

Other points

11.30 Some respondents discussed the need for monitoring and evaluation of DHPs and regular reviews of the guidance. In general, respondents hoped that in the future, local authorities could use DHPs more widely, and more in keeping with the original intention of short term support for extenuating circumstances.


Email: Trish Brady-Campbell

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