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discretionary housing payments and the 'bedroom tax'

Discretionary housing payments may be available to some people on Housing Benefit. From April 2013 Universal Credit started to replace Housing Benefit, and a new rule known as the ‘bedroom tax’ may affect some people with epilepsy on Housing Benefit.

What are discretionary housing payments?

Discretionary housing payments (DHPs) are payments of extra money given for a short time to some people on Housing Benefit to help pay their housing costs. For example, someone can apply for a DHP from their local council if the amount of Housing Benefit they get does not cover their rent. DHPs can also cover a tenancy deposit, rent in advance and removal expenses if you decide to move. A discretionary housing payment cannot be used to help with other costs such as fuel bills, food, council tax, service charges not covered by Housing Benefit, or increases in rent because you owe rent payments from previous weeks or months (called ‘rent arrears’).

Who can claim discretionary housing payments?

You can apply for discretionary housing payments only if you receive Housing Benefit and it does not cover your rent. These payments are usually given on a temporary basis. For example, if you need financial help for a few weeks because your epilepsy becomes worse and you can’t work, or you are having difficulty paying the rent while looking for somewhere else to live. You don't need to repay these payments.

You need to apply specifically for the extra payments from your local council, as they will not be given to you automatically. Discretionary housing payments are paid in addition to any benefits you may receive.

The council may ask for detailed information about your situation and what money you receive and spend. They may also ask about anything specific that has affected your financial situation. For example, if you have epilepsy or another condition that has affected your ability to work or pay your rent recently. They may ask about any needs you have that are related to a medical condition or disability, and the needs of others who live with you. It is important to give as much information as possible to help the council understand your situation.

Contact your local council to ask for an application form for discretionary housing payments.

What happens next?

If you apply for discretionary housing payments, your local council will contact you to say whether your claim has been successful, how much you will get and for how long the payments will last. Payments will be for a limited period, but you can reapply when the payment stops. In some cases, your council may backdate discretionary housing payments to include a period of time in the past before you claimed it.

How much money could I get and for how long?

As the payments are discretionary, the council looks at your situation individually, and they decide how much money they give you, and for how long. The payments are a temporary arrangement to help ‘top up’ your Housing Benefit so that you can pay your rent, so the amount you receive will normally be no more than the difference between your Housing Benefit and your rent. Your local authority makes the decision about whether you can receive the payments. If you are not happy with their decision, you can ask them to reconsider, but there is no appeals system.

How are discretionary housing payments paid?

The payments may be paid weekly, or all together in one lump sum. They may be included as part of your Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit payments.

Discretionary housing payments and the ‘bedroom tax’

Discretionary housing payments have existed for several years, but in 2013 the Government gave local councils more funding for discretionary housing payments. This was partly to help people whose Housing Benefit is reduced because they have spare bedrooms ('the removal of the spare room subsidy' or more commonly called the ‘bedroom tax’).

What is the ‘bedroom tax’?

In April 2013, an ‘under-occupation penalty’ related to how many bedrooms you have, was added to Housing Benefit for working age people who are social tenants (renting from the council, registered social landlord or housing association). If you are a pensioner, this bedroom rule does not apply to you.

The rule limits the number of rooms you can receive Housing Benefit for, based on the number of people in your household. If your local council judges that you have more bedrooms than you need, your Housing Benefit will be reduced. For example, if your rent is £400 and you have one extra bedroom, your Housing Benefit would be reduced by £56 (14%). If you have two extra rooms, it would be reduced by £100 (25%). An alternative to the reduced Housing Benefit would be to move to a property with fewer bedrooms.

The bedroom limit under this rule currently allows one bedroom for:

  • each adult couple;
  • any other adult aged 16 or over (this can include students living away from home for part of the year);
  • any two children of the same sex aged under 16 (so they need to share a room);
  • any two children aged under 10 (so they need to share a room); and
  • a carer (or team of carers) who does not live with you but provides regular overnight care.

There are further allowances for any disabled tenants, foster children or adult children in the Armed Forces.

What if my child needs their own bedroom?

Exceptions to the bedroom limit for Housing Benefit may be made if you have a child under 16 who needs their own bedroom due to a severe disability or medical need. For example, if your child needs a lot of care during the night, and this need for care or their medical condition severely disrupts the sleep of a second child, so they are unable to share a room. Or perhaps your child needs a separate room to house their medical equipment. You will need to show your local council the reasons why your child cannot share with their brother or sister.

Couples who need separate bedrooms

There is currently no exemption to the bedroom limit for adult couples on Housing Benefit who need separate bedrooms because of a disability or medical condition. Couples in this position whose Housing Benefit is being reduced because of the bedroom limit can apply for discretionary housing payments.

Contact your local council to ask about discretionary housing payments.

Further information

Benefits information
Tips and information about epilepsy and applying for benefits, including information about Universal Credit

Citizens Advice Bureau
Independent advice and information about benefits and managing money.