Saturday, 4 April 2009

Councillor Response to DHP Email

I have had another response from a Councillor, David Trimble, to my email I sent out about Discretionary Housing Payments. In fact I probably owe Cllr T an apology because I wrongly assumed that he held the portfolio that covered Housing Benefits but it turns out that he hasn't done so for nearly 2 years. I think this therefore counts as going beyond the call of duty so hats off to him for that. I'm going to put the response up in its entirity below with no interruption from me (other than removing my name which is mentioned in a couple of places). I also think its fair to point out that Cllr Trimble asked Housing Benefits for this response so it represents a corporate view rather than his personal opinions. I'm not going to do an analysis just yet, that will come next week. I haven't really had time to think about it properly yet.

''Nottingham City CouncilDiscretionary Housing Payments SchemeContext:

DHP's are an independent scheme administered by LA's which also administer HB and CTB. They are not a form of HB or CTB. DHPs are available to customers who are entitled to HB or CTB and appear to the authority to require some further financial assistance in order to meet their housing costs. As such each case is individual and treated on its own merits. DHP's can be used for such things as making up the shortfall in the eligible rent caused by a Rent Service restriction, making up for the effect of the 65% and 20% tapers used in the calculation of standard HB/CTB claims and for making up for the effect of non-dependant deductions.

The DWP sets an annual limit on each authority's DHP expenditure (overall limit) and partly reimburses this expenditure (Central Government Fund) through a system of grants separate from the HB/CTB arrangements. The DWP allocation to Nottingham for 2008/2009 was £62,517 (Actual spend for year end not available at present). This represents 0.05% of the overall benefit expenditure of £123m.

This said, the scheme is intended to reach the most vulnerable and support customers through periods of financial hardship and whilst the benefit service in recent years has worked to inform and encourage application, the level of awards remains close to the allocated DWP grant, and it is the intent for the HB service, with appropriate partners to build further on current activities to ensure that future grant provision is maximised and funding identified to achieve maximum
spend against the Government spending levels. Detailed below and aligned to the points raised by Mr *** are current and planned activities.

Response to specific points raised by Mr ***

a) commence ongoing monitoring of refusal rates of DHPs (assuming of course that isn't already happening, this question is currently before the Information Commissioner).

A system currently exists for monitoring DHP cases. However, this is a manual approach and is not particularly conducive to the extraction of meaningful management information. A database is being developed that will capture refusal rates, reasons etc. It should be noted however, that the controls built into the administration of DHPs, is robust, follows DWP best practice and has checking measures built in with management sign off for each case.

b) identify target groups of the most likely potential recipient groups of DHPs.

c) use this information to launch an ongoing take up strategy for DHPs.

A working group has been established bringing together advice agencies, Housing professionals and Housing Benefit administrators who will be undertaking analysis of the current DHP awards, including demographics, household make-up and awards details. In addition, benchmarking with other LA's with a good track record of DHP take up are being approached to share their best practise and approach. This group will be using this information to identify targeted activity.

d) start an investigation into the true levels of rent arrears and eviction rates and the potential of DHPs preventing such problems.

e) use this information to inform a decision as to whether further funds over and above the government grant should be allocated to pay for an increased take up.

Given the current economic climate, due regard will be made to the DWP funding allocation and the overall limit for Nottingham City Council, set by the Government. (NCC's 2009/10 allocation of Central Government funding is £59,645 with an overall limit of £149,113). Discussions have already taken place to identify potential funding streams within the City Council, which may be available to ensure that DHP funds are targeted to households vulnerable to homelessness as a consequence of rent arrears. This approach is also intended to maximise spend against the DWP allocation and secure future years funding. In addition awareness has been raised with Nottingham City Homes, Registered Social Landlords and local Private Rented Landlord Forums and will continue to do so when refreshing take-up material and launching a new Take-Up campaign for 2009/10. This will focus on potential qualifying conditions, how to access and the claiming process.

f) draw up local guidance for allocation of DHPs to inform rational and consistent decision making.

The DHP administration follows the best practice as defined by the Department for Works and Pensions and decisions are reached based on the individual circumstances of each case. However, a complete refresh of publicity and guidance material is currently in progress. In addition, an operational review is planned to revisit the decision-making, standards of evidence and ongoing/additional support issues raised by the DHP claim. This review will be undertaken with direct input from the advice sector and housing professionals with the intent to deliver against the purpose of the Discretionary Housing Payments scheme, which is to alleviate poverty, sustain tenancies, prevent homelessness, safeguard families and help customers through difficult times.

Detailed below are steps already undertaken by the service to increase take up and award of DHP;

A working group has been established with key partners from Benefits Service, Housing Aid, Welfare Rights, and the Advice Sector, to look at issues such as demographics, publicity material and marketing, best practice from other LA's. All staff within the Customer Services Directorate answering general face to face enquiries and telephone calls have been trained to understand DHP scheme and advise customers of their potential eligibility where appropriate. A standard DHP application pro-forma has been created to assist the customer in providing the information required by standardising the approach. Each claim is assessed using income and expenditure details supplied by the customer and taking into account the customers individual circumstances at the time.

In conjunction with local advice agencies and the voluntary sector, agreed on standards of evidence required for household expenditure and agreed an accepted level of expenditure for typical household compositions where evidence was not available or unsubstantiated. A small pool of staff has been created with responsibility for DHP assessments in order to standardise the approach and provide consistency in decision-making.

Decisions are checked and agreed by a Benefits Team Leader. In March 2008, the Department for Work and Pensions produced a Best Practice Guide to DHP's. The specific best practice cited is mirrored in NCC approach to DHP assessments.''

So, there you go. First impressions are that its a bit waffly and about 8 years too late but as I
say proper analysis next week.


Anonymous said...

Pfff. There's no way trimble wrote that.

Roderick the Robber said...

Of course he didn't and to be fair he didn't actually claim to which is why I said at the top of the post that it was a corporate response rather than his personal view.

But in the spirit of credit where credit's due, he's done more than any of the other councillors I wrote to and there may be a bit of naming and shaming going in the near future is some people don't buck their ideas up.