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Guest Blog: Housing Rights calls for a housing led review of DHPs

Housing Rights was part of a delegation, led by Nichola Mallon MLA, which met with the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities on Monday, 13th August, to discuss the operation of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs).

Kate McCauley, Policy & Practice Manager, Housing Rights, explains the context of the meeting and the organisation’s call for a housing led review of DHPs.

The meeting follows a briefing by Housing Rights to the All Party Group on Housing, of which Nichola Mallon MLA is Chair, which examined the impact of welfare reform on housing. During the June meeting of the All Party Group, we identified short term practical measures which could be taken to improve access to DHPs. We also identified the need for review of DHPs in light of the anticipated end of welfare supplementary payments in 2020.

In a briefing paper that focuses on DHPs, we made a number of key points:

  1. The budget allocated to DHPs in Northern Ireland is made in accordance with the allocation to local authorities in Great Britain. In 2017/18, there was a significant under spend, and the Housing Executive has no provision to redirect this spend. The money is therefore lost to housing when it could be used to prevent and alleviate homelessness.
  2. In the short term, there is potential (within the parameters of the Discretionary Financial Assistance Regulations 2001 (as amended) and NIHE operational policy to maximise access to DHPs in three ways:
    – increase amount of awards
    – increase duration of awards, and
    – increase promotion of DHPs to improve access.
  3. There is a pressing need for a housing-led review of DHPs. The starting point for this review should be to set policy objectives for DHPs which are linked to the Programme for Government and the Homeless Strategy. Such a review is particularly timely as the current mitigation arrangements for the operation of the Social Sector Size Criteria are due to expire in 2020.

DHPs play a critical role in preventing and alleviating homelessness. There is an urgent need to ensure that the budget allocated for this purpose is being utilised fully. Loss of rented accommodation is consistently in the top 3 reasons for homeless presentations in NI; every opportunity to prevent homelessness should be taken.

We are pleased that attention is also focusing on what arrangements will be in place post 2020 and exploring the role that DHPs can play to protect all tenants. Reviewing the use of DHPs is particularly timely given the planned end to mitigation arrangements which protect tenants impacted by the ‘bedroom tax’.

Read Housing Rights’ policy briefing: ‘Recommendations for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) in Northern Ireland pre and post 2020.’