Warrington Council (19 015 189)

Category : Benefits and tax > Local welfare payments

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 23 Jun 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms B complained that the Council did not pay her sufficient Discretionary Housing Payment to cover her housing costs. We find no fault in the Council’s actions because it had paid the maximum it could.

The complaint

  1. Ms B complained that Warrington Council (the Council) failed to give her sufficient help with her rent when she fell into debt after the Council rehoused her. She said the amount of Universal Credit she received was insufficient to meet her rent and other essential outgoings.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant, made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. Ms B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Discretionary Housing Payments

  1. Council can make a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) to people who are receiving either housing benefit or housing costs for rent as part of Universal Credit (UC) and who need further financial assistance to meet those costs.
  2. Government guidance says that the value of the DHP payment, for an ongoing award, may not exceed the value of the UC housing costs element.

What happened

  1. Ms B is a single parent of a teenage son. Ms B has experienced domestic abuse and had been living in lodgings since 21 October 2018. She accepted an offer of permanent accommodation and was due to move in June 2019.
  2. Ms B had stopped working on 14 March 2019 and claimed UC. Her first payment on 21 April 2019 (for the period 15 March until 14 April) was only for £456. Her rent was £500. The decision says that she was paid her last earnings during this period so some of this was taken into account in the calculation.
  3. On 16 April 2019 Ms B made a claim for a DHP, saying she did not have enough money to cover her basic living costs for her and her son until the next UC payment (£1022 due on 21 May 2019).
  4. In June 2019 the Council refused the claim. On 9 July 2019 Ms B made a complaint about the refusal and said the Council should take a wider view of her circumstances and the hardship she was in.
  5. On 19 July 2019 the Council reviewed the decision and awarded a DHP: £5.77 per week from 14 April until 10 June 2019). It said this was to cover the shortfall between her rent and the housing costs awarded by UC.
  6. In September 2019 Ms B complained about the initial refusal and the insufficient award. She was in rent arrears of £500 and could not afford to pay it off.
  7. The Council replied within two days saying that it had paid the maximum DHP allowed under the regulations. Ms B complained again and the Council responded in November 2019 repeating its view that it had paid the maximum DHP it could.
  8. Ms B then complained to us.

Analysis

  1. Ms B received a lower amount of UC for the first period of her claim as her last earnings payment was taken into account. UC is also paid in arrears and there is a waiting period. It was for these reasons that she got into rent arrears.
  2. She was eligible to apply for a DHP. The Council considered her application and, after an initial refusal, agreed to pay her the difference between the housing costs UC paid and her rent. DHPs are not allowed to exceed a person’s housing costs (ie: their rent). So, the Council paid the maximum amount it could and could not pay anymore regardless of Mrs B’s wider circumstances.
  3. I cannot identify any fault in the actions of the Council.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation into this complaint as I am unable to find fault causing injustice in the actions of the Council towards Ms B.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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