Agenda item

Discretionary Housing Payment Policy


            That the Committee welcomes the report and advises the Cabinet that it supports the policy subject to the third bullet point on paragraph 3.3 being amended to read ‘the wider financial and social consequences of not making an award’.         



The Benefits Manager introduced a report to seek input from the Committee on the Draft Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) Policy 2015 prior to its consideration by Cabinet on 21 April 2015. 


                        She detailed the background to the report and explained that following criticism from Welsh Government regarding a perceived inconsistency in the awards process, colleagues from 20 of the 22 Welsh Local Authorities had worked together to establish an all Wales DHP policy framework.  The Council were already undertaking a large number of the recommendations put forward by the group.  A detailed analysis was also being undertaken on the DHP workload to identify the need for future budget commitments more easily and also to work proactively with customers to identify issues and problems.  The Benefits Manager explained that DHP was not a long term solution and was a limited pot of money and examples of how a DHP could help were detailed in the report.  The new policy enabled the Council to apply a level of conditionality to the DHP awards and a range of support options, which included working with a debt advisor, were reported.  It was the customer’s responsibility to demonstrate that they were making every effort to make changes or access/accept support or advice.  The table in the report detailed the DHP Government contribution, Flintshire Top-up and total spend for 2012/13 to 2015/16 and showed that DWP funding had increased for the previous three years but had reduced for 2015/16. 


                        The Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Finance spoke of the Welfare Reforms and the work that had been undertaken to assist tenants.  He raised concern about the reduction in the DHP Government contribution but fully supported the proposals in the Discretionary Housing Payment Policy. 


                        Councillor Richard Jones stated that an officer had previously indicated that the Welfare Reforms had not had the impact that had been expected as Housing Benefit and unemployment had reduced.  The policy reported that the DHPs were paid from a fixed budget and Councillor Jones asked whether work was being undertaken to identify whether any further funding was available to ensure consistency for customers.  The Chief Officer (Community & Enterprise) indicated that a reduction in funding had not been expected for 2015/16 and it was difficult to say what pressures this would put on the budget.  The policy would assist with consistency of claims but there would be a need to monitor claims during this year and each case would be reviewed individually.  The Council provided funding for staff to deal with people affected by Welfare Reform which included support to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.  However, an area of concern was the further rollout of Universal Credit and this would need to be monitored closely to ensure any additional in-year pressures were identified quickly. 


                        The Leader of the Council disagreed with the comments made by Councillor Jones about the impact of Welfare Reform and he spoke of the significant amount of work undertaken to assist and support those affected the Welfare Reform changes. 


                        Councillor Robin Guest welcomed the policy but suggested that the words ‘and social’ be added after the word ‘financial’ in the third bullet point in paragraph 3.3 of the policy.  He commented on the work of the Team Manager – Advice & Homeless Services and suggested that he attend a future meeting to provide an update on the impact of Welfare Reforms.  The Chief Officer welcomed the suggested amendment to the policy and advised the Committee that a joint meeting with this Committee and Housing Overview & Scrutiny Committee to provide an update on Welfare Reforms was being considered. 


                        In highlighting the underspend on DHPs compared to the DHP Government Contribution for 2012/13, Councillor Clive Carver asked whether any surplus was retained by the Council.  The Benefits Manager confirmed that if the spend was less than the contribution, the excess would need to be returned to the DWP.  Councillor Carver also spoke of an issue in his ward and asked if a training course for Members on DHPs was appropriate.  The Chief Officer requested that Councillor Carver discuss the issue with her following the meeting.  The Benefits Manager explained that only those in receipt of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit could apply for a DHP. 


                        Councillor Carolyn Thomas spoke about an issue that had been raised with her by a resident and she commented on a recent visit to one of the Flintshire Connects offices.  In response to a query from Councillor Thomas about whether staff in the offices could deal with Welfare Reforms queries, the Benefits Manager advised that a duty officer for benefits was currently available at the reception office in Mold for more complex queries.




            That the Committee welcomes the report and advises the Cabinet that it supports the policy subject to the third bullet point on paragraph 3.3 being amended to read ‘the wider financial and social consequences of not making an award’.         


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