Whatever happened to ‘dignity, fairness and respect’? Yes, it is legal for councils to refuse Discretionary Housing Payments on the grounds that people can use their disability benefit to pay the rent – these payments are, after all, discretionary – but that doesn’t make it right. We were shocked to learn that this is happening in Dundee – especially as the council has generally been good at helping and advising people on benefits – and have written the following letter to the council leader, with copies to our two MSPs. Please tell us if you know of other councils that are demonstrating a similar lack of basic empathy.
We are writing because we were recently informed that the council regularly takes account of DLA/PIP income when deciding whether to award Discretionary Housing Payments. We realise that DWP Guidance allows care/daily living payments to be considered ‘on a case by case basis’, but this expressly should not be a general rule. And even if this is permitted for individual cases, it flies in the face of the purpose of those disability benefits, as well as of common decency.
DLA and PIP are supposed to compensate for the extra costs of being disabled, and are only awarded after a gruelling assessment process. In recognition of this, the benefit system acknowledges that these benefits should not be considered like other income, and should be disregarded when doing means testing or benefit cap calculations. The DWP may regard it as OK to ditch their own principles when it comes to discretionary help, but there is no need for the council to follow suit – especially as Discretionary Housing Payments are now devolved. We are constantly told that when the Scottish government eventually takes over PIP, we will experience a different approach based on ‘dignity, fairness and respect’. We would expect to see dignity, fairness and respect in the allocation of Discretionary Housing Payments too – and that means not making people spend vital disability benefits on housing costs.
We have been happy to see Dundee City Council spend a lot of time and effort looking at issues of fairness in the city, but, if this is to be reflected in council practice, there can be no room for squeezing the meagre finances of Dundee’s disabled citizens.
 ‘When deciding how to treat income from disability-related benefits such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), you must have regard to the decision of the High Court in R v. Sandwell MBC, ex parte Hardy. This decision places an obligation on LAs to consider each DHP application on a case by case basis having regard to the purpose of those disability related benefits and whether the money from those benefits has been committed to other liabilities associated with disability.’ (Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual)
PS Thanks to Jimmy Black for sending us this link to an article on the legal case mentioned in the DWP Guidance above