An overpayment is an amount of Housing Benefit that you have received but are not entitled to. Overpayments can occur because of a change in your circumstances or because we have found that your Housing Benefit is incorrect. When this happens, we will send you a letter giving you details of the overpayment including:-
- the amount of the overpayment
- the period of the overpayment
- the reason it occurred
- if the overpayment is recoverable and who from and
- your revision and appeal rights
Why do overpayments happen?
They happen for various reasons. Here are some examples:-
- You forgot to tell us that your income had increased
- Someone moved in or out of your home
- You moved out of your home and don’t tell us straight away
- You start work or change jobs
- The circumstances or income of someone living in your home changes
Please be aware that this list is only intended to give examples of some of the changes which can lead to overpayments. You should always tell us about anything that happens which might affect your entitlement and if you are not sure, please tell us anyway.
You must tell us about any changes straight away and not rely on anyone else to do it for you. Even if you have told another office such as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), you must still tell us and not leave it to them to tell us.
Who repays the overpayment?
Each overpayment is different, but when we work out who needs to repay the money, we look at certain facts such as;
- What caused the overpayment
- Who received the payment and when were they notified
- Who could have known that the benefit being paid was too much
If we pay your housing benefit directly to you, we would ask you to repay any overpayment.
If we pay your housing benefit direct to your landlord, we can recover some overpayments from them. For example, if you have moved and your landlord knew you were moving, we could expect them to know they were being overpaid.
However, if the overpayment was caused by a change in your circumstances such as you starting work we would ask you to repay the overpayment. This is because you would have known you were being overpaid. A letter detailing the amount of housing benefit you have been awarded is sent to you even if you are not receiving the payments directly.
What can I do if I do not agree with your decision?
After the benefits team notify you of your overpayment, if you do not agree with our decision, then you can ask us to look at it again.
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. The Tribunal Service is an independent body that hears appeals and gives an unbiased decision about the appeal presented to them.
Or, you can request that we change our decision first, then appeal if you are not satisfied with our response.
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 calendar month of the decision that you are appealing against.
I have an overpayment but you haven’t used my true circumstances
If we have written to you telling you that you have been overpaid Housing Benefit it will be because some of your circumstances have changed. Your entitlement will be lower, or will have ceased, from a date before the decision was made.
It is important that you review that letter and check that the details we have used reflect your true circumstances.
If you have been overpaid Housing Benefit and have not told us about something in your circumstances, we may be able to review the overpaid amount.
If we cannot revise the decision, and your true circumstances mean you would have been entitled to more Housing Benefit throughout the time you were overpaid, we can use those circumstances to reduce your overpayment. We call this ‘underlying entitlement’.
John and Emilia are claiming Housing Benefit as a couple.
Their Housing Benefit is £10.00 per week. John’s wages go up and as a result his Housing Benefit goes down to £7.50 per week. Their Housing Benefit has gone down by £2.50 per week.
John did not tell the Housing Benefit department about his wages going up until 10 weeks after the change. This means John and Emilia have been overpaid £25.00 Housing Benefit (10 weeks x £2.50 = £25.00)
They are told about the overpayment and recovery action has started. Some weeks later, John realises that as well as not telling the Housing Benefit department about his increase in earnings he also hadn’t told them that Emilia’s wages had gone down.
Emilia’s wages went down 1 week after John’s went up.
Based on Emilia’s decrease in wages their Housing Benefit would have been £10.00 per week again.
Emilia’s wage decrease was not reported within a month of it happening, so it cannot be used to increase their Housing Benefit entitlement at any point before the change has been reported.
However, we can see that if the change had been reported on time their Housing Benefit entitlement would have been £10.00 per week, not £7.50. So whilst we cannot change their actual entitlement, we can see that there was an underlying entitlement of £10.00 per week.
Taking into account the underlying entitlement, they would have been overpaid £2.50 in the first week and nothing in the other 9 weeks.
Based on John and Emilia’s true circumstances the Housing Benefit overpayment has reduced from £25.00 to £2.50.
If you have been overpaid Housing Benefit and there is something we were unaware of, you should tell us as soon as possible.
By deductions from your Housing Benefit entitlement
If you are still in receipt of Housing Benefit we will normally make a weekly deduction from your ongoing entitlement to recover the overpayment. The amount we can deduct is set by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and it is normally increased in April of each year. If the amount being deducted each week is causing you financial hardship you can request a lower weekly deduction rate. You may be asked to complete a financial statement. To request a lower weekly reduction rate please email email@example.com
By paying our invoice
If you are not in receipt of Housing Benefit we will send you an invoice for the full amount of the overpayment. The invoice is payable within 14 days. The methods of payment are:-
- Making an online payment
- Payment by phone 24 hours a day using a debit or credit card – 01323 443188
- Internet banking via your own bank account. Details of how to do this are shown on the back of your invoice
- Wealden Council Payment App. You can download the Apple App (external link) or search for ‘Wealden Council’ on the App store or Google Play.
You will need to enter your invoice number when making a payment. The invoice number is shown on the front of your invoice, it is an eight digit number beginning with 4.
If you are not able to pay the invoice in full within 14 days we can normally agree a repayment plan with you. You may be asked to complete a financial statement (pdf). To request a repayment plan, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
If payment is not received within 14 days and we are unable to reach a satisfactory agreement with you, further action will be taken to recover the amount due. Please see the ‘what happens if I don’t pay’ section below.
What if the instalments are too high for me to manage?
If your instalments are too high you need to print and complete a Financial Statement and return it to us.
We will use the information provided to help us decide if we can reduce your repayments.
What will happen next?
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. 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 and when.
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.
If you do not pay your instalments when they are due the repayment plan will be cancelled and the full amount will be payable within 7 days. Further action will then be taken to recover the amount due. Please see the ‘what happens if I don’t pay’ section below.
Why can’t you just reduce my repayments?
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. By asking for a financial statement to be completed and bank statements and pay slips supplied we can then determine the correct level of repayment.
We are committed to helping people who are genuinely suffering hardship and can refer you to Agencies who may be able to help you deal with any debt problems.
What happens if I don’t pay?
Below is a list of options available to the Council that can be taken to recover the amount owing;
- Ask the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) to take money out of your social security benefits
- Ask another council to take money out of any Housing Benefit they are paying you
- Instruct your employer to take money direct from your wages, this is called a Direct Earnings Attachment
- Refer your debt to the Council’s Enforcement Agents
- Pass your case to a council appointed Collection Agency
- Registering the debt at the County Court, incurring you in costs, which will allow the Council to enforce the debt by other means