This page was last reviewed on 17 May 2021.
Housing Benefit is available for households on a low income to help them pay their rent. Housing Benefit is gradually being replaced by Universal Credit.
Discretionary Housing Payments are a national scheme funded by the government and administered by local councils. The scheme provides extra financial help towards your rent on top of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit.
You are charged Council Tax for residential properties you either live in, or are responsible for. The amount of the Council Tax depends on the value of your property. The value of your property depends on how big it is, and where it is located in the borough. The more expensive the property the more Council Tax you are charged. If your property is empty, you may still have to pay Council Tax.
Households on a low income can claim Council Tax Support. This is local scheme run by Bury Council to provide financial help with Council Tax charges.
In addition to Council Tax Support, we also have a Discretionary Council Tax Payment scheme, to help people in exceptional circumstances.
Discretionary Payments are intended to support you through a time of financial hardship. They provide a way for us to help if you are unable to pay your rent or Council Tax, and fall outside the remit of other forms of assistance.
What does 'discretionary' mean?
'Discretionary' means that we are able to choose who we pay, how much we pay and how long the payments last for. This gives us the flexibility to help people who fall outside the normal welfare benefits schemes. Unlike Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support we have no obligation to make payments.
Our decisions must be consistent and fair. This document explains how we deliver schemes which are fair to both people claiming from them and for the people who fund them.
To be considered for a Discretionary Housing Payment:
- you need to be in receipt of Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit and
- there needs to be a shortfall between the amount of benefit you receive and the amount of rent you are charged.
These are legal requirements set by the government.
The eligibility criteria for Discretionary Council Tax Payments are slightly different. If you have a low income you may be entitled to Council Tax Support there are some situations where you cannot qualify for this discount, for example if you have an empty property. Therefore we will consider claims from anyone who is liable for Council Tax, and who in our opinion, needs further financial help, regardless of whether or not they receive Council Tax Support.
In all cases we cannot pay out more than the amount of Council Tax you being charged.
Our main concern is your financial situation and your ability to pay your rent and Council Tax. It is possible to say that certain groups of people are more likely to have financial difficulties. However, we believe that confining eligibility to these groups restricts our discretion. That is not the intention of the scheme.
Applying for a Discretionary Payment
You can claim a Discretionary Payment for either rent or Council Tax, or you can claim both together.
We will consider claims for Discretionary Payments for rent and for Council Tax at the same time.
We have a joint claims process because:
- we normally need the same information for both claims, especially relating to your finances
- it is quicker and easier for you to supply this information once
- it allows us to look at your whole financial situation and recommend other forms of support and help which may be available
We will consider each claim on its own merits.
We ask for claims in writing. We provide a claim form so that you can be sure you are giving us all the information we need. The claim form is available in digital format on our website, and also as a paper version.
We will ask you to explain why you need an award and to provide details of your income and expenditure.
If you need help making a claim, contact us and we will provide advice. We will also accept claims made on your behalf by organisations such as Six Town Housing, Bury Support Fund and Citizens Advice Bureau.
You can apply at any time but we encourage you to do so as soon as possible, because recovery of your rent and Council Tax debts will continue in the meantime.
Awards may be reduced or withdrawn if your circumstances change and the payment is no longer appropriate.
If we decide not to make an award, you have a right of appeal. There is no time limit for you to make an appeal. However you will continue to be charged rent and Council Tax in the meantime, so if want to appeal it is better to do so as soon as possible. We will review your case to check we have used the correct information and made the correct decision.
Making our decision
We need to see why you have difficulties paying your rent and Council Tax.
We will look at your finances to take account of:
- your income and expenditure and that of your household
- whether you have access to any assets that could be used to pay your rent or Council Tax
- any priority debts you have for example rent, gas, electricity and water arrears or court fines.
We will also look at what efforts you are making to improve your financial situation. This could include:
- any action you are taking to reduce your expenditure, or increase your income
- whether you have applied for Council Tax Support or other welfare benefits
- If you have previously been awarded a Discretionary Payment, have you met any conditions which were part of that award
- agreeing to obtain money advice or debt advice - we can provide referrals to Citizens Advice Bureau and StepChange debt charity
- setting up and maintaining a payment arrangement for your Council Tax
- setting up a Direct Debit to pay your rent
We will take account of other factors that affect your finances. These could include:
- life events such as redundancy or bereavement
- medical circumstances (including ill health and disabilities) that affect you or your household
- circumstances not catered for by other benefit schemes, for example absent parents who regularly care for their children
The government has made extra funding available for Discretionary Housing Payments to help people affected by recent reforms of the Housing Benefit scheme. These include:
- Local Housing Allowance rates being reduced or frozen - Housing Benefit paid to tenants who rent from private landlords is worked out using the Local Housing Allowance rules. These set maximum amounts of benefit based on the size of the household and where the property is located. Reforms to Local Housing Allowance since April 2011 have restricted the amounts which can be paid.
- under occupation or 'bedroom tax' - introduced in April 2013 for working age tenants of social landlords. Housing Benefit is reduced if their property is defined as being too large for the household's needs. Discretionary Housing Payments can be considered in situations where extra bedrooms are needed for medical reasons, or where a property has been modified to meet the needs of a disabled person.
- Benefit cap - introduced in September 2013 the benefit cap is a limit on the total amount of benefit that most working age households can receive. The thresholds were reduced further in November 2016.
In all cases simply being affected by welfare reforms is not sufficient reason to be considered, there also needs to be reasons why you cannot change your circumstances.
The schemes do not exist to enable someone to maintain a property that they could not otherwise afford. This means that one of the conditions for a payment may be seeing evidence that you are actively trying to move to cheaper accommodation.
When considering a claim we will not penalise you for your past actions. In all cases we will look to address your current circumstances and decide if a discretionary payment will help to resolve your financial difficulties.
How awards are made
We usually make Discretionary Payments for a limited period of time, depending on your circumstances. This will give you extra time to:
- negotiate a lower rent with your landlord
- seek financial advice for existing debts
- move to a more affordable property
- find paid employment
- increase your working hours
In some cases we will consider making awards for longer periods where it is evident that a household cannot change its circumstances.
A Discretionary Housing Payment award will take the form of a payment made to either yourself or your landlord. We will normally make a series of payments at the same time as we pay your Housing Benefit.
A Discretionary Council Tax Payment award will take the form of a reduction in the amount of Council Tax you are charged. It will be used to:
- pay off arrears and/or
- provide ongoing support, by either reducing your monthly payments or allowing a period of time where no Council Tax is due.
Providing a holistic service
The two Discretionary Payment schemes are separate and have different criteria. However looking at the two schemes together allows us to consider the situation of the household. It may be that helping with your rent frees up enough income for you to pay your Council Tax.
We will also check if you owe other debts to the Council. If you do, we will check if your debt repayments can be reduced in the short term.
We will help, where possible, with referrals to Citizens Advice Bureau for money management advice or Step Change debt charity for debt advice.
Legislation, funding and compliance
Discretionary Housing Payments are paid in accordance with the Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001 (SI 2001/1167).
The Department for Work and Pensions funds the Discretionary Housing Payment scheme. It allocates an amount of funding each year to the council.
Details of how much funding we receive, how much we have spent, and the types of applications which have been successful are available at Gov.uk - Discretionary Housing Payments statistics..
We will consider requests for Discretionary Council Tax Payments under section 13A(1)(c) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992.
Discretionary Council Tax Payments are funded by Bury Council. This means that the cost of the scheme is met by us at the expense of the borough's Council Tax payers. The amount of money spent on the scheme is monitored in a monthly report to senior management.
Both schemes are financially constrained by the amount of funding we receive. We will:
- look to pay out as much money as we can
- carefully budget these payments throughout the year
In doing so this will ensure that:
- we will not have to restrict payments because we have no funds
- we will not overspend significantly, which is a cost which would be borne by local residents
Review of this policy
The policy will be reviewed annually before the start of the financial year in April. This is line with start of new funding year for Discretionary Housing Payments, the setting of the Council's budget and the annual review of the Council Tax Support scheme.