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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

DHPs available to cover full shortfall in rent for certain tenants

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Housing Rights has been in touch with huge numbers of private tenants, concerned about how they will manage to pay their full rent bearing in mind the low level of assistance paid by social security benefits towards the cost of private rents. While the restoration of LHA rates to the 30% percentile is hugely welcome, this still means that many tenants will have a significant shortfall between the amount of help they are getting towards the rent and the amount they are expected to pay their landlords. 

We are very happy to see that the Housing Executive has stepped up to address this urgent financial need by stating that Discretionary Housing Payments can now be paid to cover the full shortfall for certain private tenants. This policy change will essentially restore the safety net that exists under Housing Benefit and which is sorely missed from Universal Credit, whereby a person gets 13 weeks breathing space during which their full rent is paid when they have a sudden change in circumstances which means they can no longer afford their rent. This was a measure we strongly advocated for in our initial policy response to Covid-19 and one which, we believe, will be a huge source of relief to many people. 

Who can apply for this additional help?

This assistance is available to tenants who have made a fresh application for Universal Credit and are receiving help with housing costs as part of that claim. 

NIHE can award a Discretionary Housing Payment that will cover the person's full shortfall between the amount of UC HC they receive and their contractual rent if

  1. the person could afford to pay the full rent when they initially set up the tenancy AND
  2. the person has not claimed UC or HB in the last 12 months.

The Housing Executive's website states that payments can be made to persons who

  • Have recently lost their job or have been made temporarily redundant; or their income has significantly reduced and

  • Have not received Housing Benefit or housing costs element of Universal Credit in the last 12 months; and

  • Could afford their rent when they first entered into their rental liability (no matter how long ago that was).

In a case where someone does not meet the criteria for the 13 week protection but has been impacted due to Covid-19, NIHE will look at their case accordingly with a view to making an increased or more generous award where possible.

What about tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit?

Housing Benefit already includes this 13 week protection for those people who make a new claim to HB and could previously afford their rent. A tenant already in receipt of Housing Benefit will not be entitled to this protection, as they won't satisfy the requirement set out in the regulations that they have not claimed Housing Benefit in the past 52 weeks. However, a person in these circumstances can still apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment under the normal procedures. 

It is only possible to make a new claim for Housing Benefit in very limited circumstances, including where a person is of pension age or receiving a severe disability premium in other benefits. In these circumstances, the person would have their full contractual rent used to work out their entitlement to benefit for 13 weeks before then dropping down to the LHA rate, as long as they had not received Housing Benefit in the last 52 weeks. 

How are discretionary housing payments paid?

DHPs are paid by the Housing Executive, so will appear in a person's account in a separate transaction to the Universal Credit housing costs payment. An award of Discretionary Housing Payment will be backdated to the Monday of the week the application was received and payments will be made every four weeks. The DHP claim will be reviewed after 13 weeks. 

Applying for a Discretionary Housing Payment

The quickest way to apply for this payment if you are receiving Universal Credit is to do so online at the Housing Executive's website.

The online option is not available for people who are claiming Housing Benefit. Instead, an application form must be printed, scanned and emailed. If this poses difficulties, contact NIHE to see they can send you out a form.

Any person who needs assistance completing the application should contact our helpline for advice and support. 

This article was written on 9 April 2020. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.