If you've been paid too much in housing benefits or your circumstances change in anyway, you must contact us straightaway.
An overpayment is when benefit has been paid to someone but they are not entitled to it. Not telling us about changes of circumstances straight away is the biggest cause of overpayments. If your circumstances change, tell us straight away so that your benefit can be corrected before there is an overpayment. You must tell us even though you may not have to tell other agencies, such as the Department for Work and Pensions.
If a landlord makes a habit of not repaying overpayments that are recoverable from him, we can decide that the landlord is not a 'fit & proper person' under the Benefit Regulations. This means we can refuse to make direct benefit payments to the landlord.
We will look again at our decision if you ask us to. Please write to us saying why you do not agree with the decision.
When you should contact us
Contact us if:
- you think you've been overpaid
- you get a letter telling you that you've been overpaid
- your circumstances change and this is likely to affect benefit
How 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.
How is the amount of overpayment worked out?
The weekly amount of the overpayment will be the difference between the 'wrong' rate of benefit and any benefit you are entitled to based on your new circumstances.
For instance, your benefit may have stopped because you have started work and there has been an overpayment. If you give us details of your earnings we will work out your benefit based on these new circumstances, even if you have not put in a claim. We will then reduce the amount of the overpayment by the benefit you should have had.
Do all overpayments have to be paid back?
Most overpayments have to be paid back and can be recovered from the person the benefit was paid to. This means we can recover an overpayment from a landlord, even if they did not know about a change in their tenant's circumstances. Overpayments that are caused by 'official error' might not be recovered, unless it was reasonable for the tenant or landlord to have known they were being overpaid at the time of payment or when they were notified. Each case is looked at separately.
An overpayment can be recovered from either the person who caused the overpayment, or the person who received the overpayment.
Recovering an overpayment does not affect any criminal proceedings we may take over a fraudulent claim.
Housing Benefit overpayments can be recovered from ongoing entitlements by reducing the amount paid out. There is a limit to the amount we can recover each week from Housing Benefit. The amount is updated every year – printed letters sent to you will explain the amount being recovered from you against the payments made on your benefit claim.
Where there is no ongoing entitlement to benefit we will send you an invoice and expect you to make an arrangement to repay this balance at a rate that you can afford.
We may be able to accept payments by instalments if repaying the whole amount would cause hardship. You must contact us quickly to arrange this otherwise we might start legal action. This would run up more costs which you will have to repay.
Recovering overpayment from a tenant
If the tenant is receiving Housing Benefit, we will take an amount off their benefit payments each week. If the payments are made direct to the landlord, this will mean the benefit payment that is issued every 4 weeks will be reduced by this amount which the tenant is expected to pay.
The tenant is responsible for paying any difference between the rent due and the reduced amount paid to the landlord. If the tenant is not receiving Housing Benefit, the overpayment may be recovered from other benefits. We may send the tenant an invoice for payment.
Recovering overpayment from a landlord
If we have decided to recover an overpayment from a landlord we will issue an invoice. If the landlord has other tenant's claiming Housing Benefit, we may make deductions from the other tenants' benefit paid to that landlord. The amount of these deductions should not be treated as unpaid rent for those tenants, and the landlord must not try to recover the shortfall from them. This in law is called 'recovery from Housing Benefit payable for blameless tenants'.
If an overpayment is being recovered by deductions from benefit, then only the tenant can appeal or ask us to reconsider the decision. The deduction might be for an overpayment at a previous address. The tenant would have been told in writing that a weekly deduction was being made.
The landlord will be told about a deduction from a tenant's entitlement if Housing Benefit is paid directly to that landlord. If an overpayment is being recovered from a tenant's benefit, Benefit Regulations do not allow the landlord to appeal or ask us to reconsider our decision. Neither can we discuss details of the tenant's claim with the landlord.
A landlord can only appeal or ask us to reconsider a decision if the overpayment is to be recovered from him personally. In other words, if an invoice for payment has been sent to him, or a deduction is being made from the benefit he receives for other tenants. If the overpayment is owed by the landlord personally, he will be told in writing about a decision to recover from him. A claimant or landlord can write to us at any time asking for a written statement of reasons for the recovery of an overpayment from them.
Not repaying an overpayment
If an invoice remains unpaid, or someone does not keep to an arrangement to repay the debt over time, we may take action to register the debt in the County Court, or take money from other benefits.