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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Advocating for 13 week DHP when initial application rejected

One of the most welcome local interventions to assist private renters who have lost income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the Housing Executive’s commitment to use the Discretionary Housing Payment scheme to restore vital welfare protections missing from Universal Credit.  Our advisers have been helping people to claim this assistance, but have come across a few incidences where the claimant isn’t getting the full assistance they are entitled to

Our adviser Amy helped her client apply for a DHP, and intervened on the client’s behalf when it became clear that the client should have been receiving a greater amount of financial assistance. We've changed some of the client's details to protect her privacy. 

Client caught between jobs, ineligible for furlough

Amy’s client Collette was a young person who had recently started a new job. Collette rented a bedsit, paying her landlord £90 per week. As a result of changing jobs, Collette ended up missing the dates to be eligible for a furlough payment from her new boss and her former employer was unwilling to place her on furlough.  She applied for Universal Credit to help with her rent, but as a result of her age was only entitled to the shared accommodation rate of £70 a week, leaving her with a shortfall of £20 each week to pay from the rest of her Universal Credit payment.

Housing Rights helps client to apply for extra help with rent

Collette contacted Housing Rights to find out if there was any extra help she could get. Amy explained that Collette could apply for a DHP and that this should cover the full £20 a week shortfall for a 13-week period, as long as she met the eligibility criteria.

The Housing Executive will pay a DHP equivalent to the full shortfall between the client’s eligible rent for Universal Credit and the rent they pay to their landlord if an applicant:

  • has had a reduction in his or her income
  • has not claimed benefits to pay rent in the last year and
  • could afford to pay the full amount of contracted rent when they initially moved into their tenancy.

Collette ticked all three boxes, so Amy helped her complete the application.

Advocating on client’s behalf when application refused

A few weeks later, Amy contacted NIHE for an update on Collette’s application. She was told that Collette was not eligible for a DHP as NIHE had been advised that Universal Credit was covering Collette’s full contractual rent and that she could apply for a rates rebate to assist with any rates charges on the property.

Amy checked Collette’s documentation and confirmed with the estate agent that her rent did not include rates and that the landlord was both legally and contractually responsible for paying rates on the property.  NIHE’s position was that the information from UC showed no shortfall, while UC stated that they had provided accurate information showing both the clients contractual rent of £390 per month and her housing costs entitlement of £303 per month.

Amy emailed both Universal Credit and NIHE, enclosing copies of evidence to confirm that Collette’s rent charge was not covered by UC, and asked for the decision to be reviewed. 

On receipt of Amy’s submissions, NIHE accepted that Collette was, in fact, experiencing a shortfall in her rent and agreed to cover this full shortfall for 13 weeks. After this 13 week period, NIHE will review Collette’s DHP and can continue to pay it at the same or a lesser level. 

Importance of specialist, independent advice

The difficulties with Collette’s claim were largely caused by administrative issues and compounded by the current situation where large numbers of staff are working from home and may not have access to the same support staff and materials. Amy’s involvement shows the impact of getting help from experienced advocates and the importance of Northern Ireland’s advice sector, particularly at this time.

Any person experiencing difficulty with housing issues, whether that relates to homelessness, housing conditions or paying your bills should contact our helpline for advice.

Tagged In

Coronavirus, Private Tenancies, Affordability, Adviser

This article was written on 1 July 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.