Overpayments

An overpayment is any amount of benefit or support which has been paid to you but you were not entitled to receive. If we pay you too much, we can usually ask you to pay back what we have overpaid.

How to pay your overpayment invoice

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Find out the many different ways you can pay your overpayment invoice.

Why do overpayments happen?

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They happen for various reasons. Here are some examples:

  • You may have given us wrong information.
  • You may not have told us something that we needed to know about.
  • You may have been slow to tell us about a change.

We might have to work out the amount of your benefit again because of a change in your circumstances or because we've found we've made a mistake.

If you then get less benefit and we've already paid you the higher amount, there will be an overpayment.

In the case of Council Tax Support, we pay benefit for a whole year at the start of the year. It's quite likely that something will change during the year and we will find that we've paid too much, or too little, for the rest of the year.

Please note there may be a delay in the time it takes between a change happening, you telling us and us dealing with it.

Even if you tell us straightaway and we deal with it quickly, it is often impossible to avoid some overpayment.

Can you ask me for the money back?

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The majority of overpayments that are created will have to be paid back and will be recovered from you. We will be able to recover overpayments back from your landlord if they have received the payments of Housing Benefit but only if the property has been vacated or there has been a death.

Overpayments that have been caused by 'official error' may not be recovered, unless it is seen as reasonable for you or your Landlord to have known that benefit was being overpaid. Each case is decided individually.

Recovering an overpayment does not affect any criminal proceedings we may take over a fraudulent claim.

How do you get the money back?

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There are many ways we can recover an overpayment.

If Council Tax Support has been overpaid then the money will be recovered from your Council Tax account and a new bill will be issued to reflect the increase in Council Tax for the remainder of the year.

We will collect this money directly from you. If you are unable to pay the full bill then we can increase your monthly instalments.

If you do not contact us as soon as you receive your revised bill and you fail to pay then legal action maybe taken to recover the overpayment.

We can recover overpaid Housing Benefit by the following methods:

By asking your employer to make deductions from your wages or salary

If you are working, we can ask your employer to take regular amounts from your wages to pay off the debt.  The amount we receive will depend on your net pay.

Please note that the legislation does not require the Council to obtain a Court Order and that it is a criminal offence for you or your employer not to comply.

From instalments of your Housing Benefit

If you're still on benefit we can take money out of each week's benefit to recover the overpayments. There are legal limits to how much we can take each week.

If the amount we take each week causes you a problem, please tell us. We might be able to change it and take a smaller amount.

By using other money we owe you

If we owe you benefit for another period, we can hold on to the money and use it to repay your overpayment. This is called ' offsetting'.

By sending you a bill

We may send you a bill or an overpayment notice letter and you should make arrangements to pay. If you can't pay all at once, we can arrange instalments, so please get in touch. If we don't hear from you, we may register the debt with the county court and ask them to enforce it. This is the same as having a court order against you, so it will affect your credit rating.

From your landlord

If we've been paying your benefit to a private landlord or housing association, we may ask them to repay the money.

Please download and read our guide to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit for Landlords' for more detailed information.

Other ways we can get the money back

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We can ask the Department for Works and Pensions to take money out of your social security benefits. We can also ask another council to take money out of any Housing Benefit they are paying you.

What if the instalments are too high for me to manage?

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You need to contact us, your housing association or private landlord to discuss the situation. If you do not pay your instalments, and do not contact us to discuss the problem, this will lead to further legal action.

If your instalments are too high you need to download and complete an income and expenditure (spending) form. You will need to give us full details of all your income and your outgoings. We will use this information to decide if we can reduce your repayments.

How do I fill in the income and expenditure form?

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You must give us full details of your income and your partner's income (if you have one). This should include any earnings, benefits, interest payments and any other money that you or your partner receive, for example, income from people who live with you.

You also need to give us details of your regular outgoings, for example, utility bills (gas, water or electricity bills). You need to show all figures as weekly amounts to allow us to assess all your expenses over the same time period.

If you have any expenses that are not permanent payments (for example, fines, loans or catalogue payments), please tell us the date they are due to end.

You also need to tell us how much you can afford to repay. Then, return your completed form to: Benefits Section, PO Box 542, Sale, M33 0GD. We will then make our decision.

What will happen next?

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When we receive your form we will consider how much you say you can afford to pay. We may need to ask you for more information or ask to see proof of your outgoings, such as a utility bill. If this is the case, we will write to you.

We may make suggestions on how you could reduce the amount you pay on other less important debts so that you have more money available to repay your Housing Benefit overpayment.

Once we have all the information we need, we will make a decision and write to you with details of how much you need to pay.

Sometimes, for a short period of time, we can reduce the amount we are taking from your Housing Benefit each week. However, we can change this at any time.

Why can't you just reduce my repayments?

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We must protect public funds we handle and this includes claiming back any money owed to us.

Unfortunately, not everyone who claims they cannot afford to repay their overpayment is being honest. And people do not always give the correct figures on the income and expenditure (spending) form .

We are committed to helping people who are genuinely suffering hardship, so it is important that we know which claims of hardship are false.

Will you tell me if I have been overpaid benefit?

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Yes, you will be informed about any overpayment and the action we will take to recover it.

The first step will be to write to tell you the new rate of benefit you're now entitled to, or that your entitlement to benefit has stopped.

Another letter will be sent explaining the reason for the overpayment, the amount that has been overpaid and an explanation as to how it was calculated. This letter may also state how this overpayment is going to be recovered or that we will contact you at a later date as to how we require the money to be paid back.

If this occurs then we will write again to inform you what we are going to do or to ask you to send us the money, or tell you that we are not going to take any further action.

You can ask us for further details about your overpayment if you feel that it's not clear what we have decided. You have a legal right to ask for the reasons for our decision. Our notice letters will explain your rights relating to each decision and also tell you about time limits. The date of our decision is the date on our letter to you.

What are my rights?

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You do have a right to ask for the reasons for our decision. You must write in and request this information and ensure that the letter is signed.

You have the right to ask if our decision can be changed. This request must be done within one calendar month of the date on the decision letter. You must clearly state which decision you do not agree with and give reasons to support your request. We will look at our decision again and confirm the result in writing.

You have the right to appeal to an independent appeal tribunal on some overpayment decisions.

Or, you can request that we change our decision first, then appeal if you are not satisfied with our response.

The Tribunals Service is an independent body that hears appeals and gives an unbiased decision about the appeal presented.

All appeals must be made in writing and you must make it clear as to the decision you are appealing against and provide reasons for your appeal. All correspondence must be signed.

There are time limits - appeals must usually reach us within a month of the decision you're appealing against.

Can overpayments be reduced?

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Yes, overpayments can sometimes be reduced. Here we give two examples - 'Offsetting' and 'Underlying entitlement'.

Offsetting

After we've decided that you've been overpaid, we may get more information that makes us change our decision.

In this case, we'll tell you our new decision about how much you're entitled to.

If this is more than before, the overpayment will be lower than before or you may not have been overpaid after all.

We call this 'offsetting'. We offset the extra money due against what we originally decided was overpaid.

Of course, if we've already recovered the overpayment from you, we'll pay you the extra.

This situation often happens when someone comes off benefit and starts work.

Underlying entitlement

If your Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support claim stops, for example, because we have just found out that you were not entitled to Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance for a past period, you will have been overpaid.

However, if you are able to provide evidence of all your income, savings and investments for the period of the overpayment, we can assess the amount of award that you would have been entitled to if we had known your correct circumstances at the time.

If we award benefit for the period of an overpayment it is called ' underlying entitlement' and we will use it to reduce the total amount of the overpaid benefit.

If we are able to do this, we'll tell you our new decision about how much you're now entitled to.

If this is more than before, the overpayment will be lower than before and you may not have been overpaid after all.

What if there is an overpayment but you've been paying my landlord?

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If you're the tenant of a private landlord, or a housing association, we may have been paying your Housing Benefit direct to them. We may have paid too much and the overpayment may be one where we can ask for the money back.

In these cases we could ask you to pay us back, or we could ask your landlord because they've received the money. We have to decide and tell you our decision. You do have a right to appeal if we choose you rather than the landlord.

If you're a landlord you have a right to appeal if you think we should ask the tenant. In general, if we decide the tenant caused the overpayment and the landlord couldn't have known about it, we would expect the tenant to repay.

If you're a landlord, make sure you have read our guide to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit for Landlords.

What can I do if I do not agree with your decision?

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If you do not agree with our decision, then you can ask us to look at it again. Our letters will tell you how to do this or you can get more information on the appeals page.