If you've been paid too much in housing benefits or your circumstances change in anyway, you must contact us straightaway.
Housing Benefit Overpayment
An overpayment of Housing Benefit is when we have paid you or your landlord an amount of Housing Benefit that you were not entitled to receive.
If we have paid you too much Housing Benefit, we will usually ask you to pay back the amount we have overpaid.
Why do overpayments happen?
Benefit overpayments happen for a number of reasons:
- A claimant does not tell us about a change of circumstances at the correct time or not at all and Housing Benefit continues to be paid at the old rate. (By law, claimants and landlords must tell us about changes in circumstances. They can be fined if not).
- A claimant or landlord has deliberately claimed benefit to which they are not entitled, or they have given false information to get benefit.
- A mistake has been made by us, the Department for Work and Pensions or another government agency like the Tax Credits Agency.
If an overpayment was not your fault
Most overpayments are recoverable. However, if an overpayment was due an official error and you could not have known you were being overpaid then the overpayment is not recoverable.
To reduce the risk of an overpayment, please tell us straight away of any changes in your circumstances. You must tell us about any changes and not rely on anyone else to do it for you. Even if you have told the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), you must still tell us.
Each time your Housing Benefit entitlement is calculated, you will receive a letter telling you the information we have used in the calculation. You are responsible for making sure the information we have used is correct. Please check the letters we send to you. If you notice a mistake, please contact us straight away.
What happens when an overpayment is discovered?
When an overpayment is found, the following decisions are made:
- the period of the overpayment
- the amount of the overpayment
- the cause of the overpayment
- whether the overpayment is classed as "recoverable"
- whether to recover the overpayment
- from whom the overpayment should be recovered
- how to recover the overpayment
We will then write to you shortly afterwards providing you with more information. If we were making payments of Housing Benefit to your landlord when the overpayment occurred, we will also write to them.
If you are told you have been overpaid, please make sure you tell us what your circumstances were for the period of the overpayment.
How do we recover the Housing Benefit overpayment?
In most cases overpayments are recovered from you, the claimant. This is because you would have known benefit was being overpaid – a breakdown of Housing Benefit is sent to you even if you are not receiving the payments.
Overpayments of Housing Benefit can be recovered in the following ways.
- If you are still getting Housing Benefit, we may reduce your benefit each week to recover the overpayment.
- If you pay us rent and your rent account is in credit, we may use this credit to pay back the overpayment.
- We may debit small amounts of overpayments to your rent account; if we are not paying you Housing Benefit, we may send you an invoice and you should make arrangements to pay us.
- If we paid your landlord your Housing Benefit, we may ask the landlord to repay the overpayment in certain circumstances, if the landlord would have known that they were being overpaid.
If you don’t pay, or make an arrangement, we will take one of the following actions.
- If you receive benefit from the Department for Work and Pensions, we may take an amount from this benefit.
- We may ask a debt collection agency to recover the money owed to us.
- If you are working, we may ask your employer to give us a percentage of your wages (Direct Earnings Attachment).
- We will ask County Court to issue an order for payment including a charging order.
We can discuss repayment with you, so that we do not ask you to pay too much each week.
If you have received a Housing Benefit overpayment notification
Please check the notification letter carefully to make sure that your income and other details are correct. If they are not, please contact us straight away.
If your details on the notification are correct, please do one of the following:
- make a payment
- make an offer to repay your overpayment by instalments
- contact us to discuss a payment plan
If you think you will have trouble paying, please contact us straight away, we are here to help.
If you disagree with the overpayment
If you disagree with the overpayment after reading our explanation you must write to us and ask for a more detailed explanation, or you can ask for us to look at our decision again. You need to do this within one calendar month of the date on the letter.
If you are not satisfied with our decision or how we explain our decision, you may be able to appeal.
Housing Benefit overpayments – Direct Earnings Attachments (DEA)
We may ask employers to deduct any Housing Benefit overpayments an employee owes the council from their pay. This is called a Direct Earnings Attachment.
If an employee is affected, we will write to the employer and ask them to operate the scheme. An employer doesn’t have to operate a DEA if:
- you started your business between 8 April 2013 and 31 March 2014
- you have fewer than ten employees
The employers guide provides advice on what an employer needs to do if they are asked to carry out a Direct Earnings Attachment.