An overpayment is when we pay you or your landlord an amount of Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support, but you were not entitled to receive it. If we have paid you too much, you will need to pay back the amount we have overpaid.
They happen for various reasons including not telling us about a change of income (work or benefits), address or household members.
You must tell us about any changes straight away because it takes us time to deal with them.
Even if you have told the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about your change in circumstances, you must still let us know and not leave it to the DWP to tell us.
There are a few options available to the council to recover an overpayment:
- 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
- If we paid your landlord your benefit, we may ask the landlord to repay the overpayment in certain circumstances
- We can ask the Department for Work and Pensions to take money out of your social security benefits to collect the overpayment. In cases where you have moved out of the area, they can take money from any Housing Benefit paid to you by another council
Any reduction in your Council Tax Support will be added to your Council Tax bill. This will be recovered by increasing your monthly payments. We will not recover Housing Benefit overpayments from your Council Tax. Council Tax arrears will not be recovered from your Housing Benefit.
If you do not make an arrangement to pay or payments are not received then the debt may be passed to an external agency to collect.
Reducing the overpayment
In some circumstances, we may be able to reduce the amount we overpaid you if you tell us about your correct circumstances throughout the period of the overpayment - this is called 'underlying entitlement'. We may ask you to fill in a new form to explain your circumstances and give us documents as proof (such as details of your income and bank statements for the period) before we work out your underlying entitlement.
If we find that you are entitled to any benefit for this period we can only use this amount to reduce an overpayment, it is not an award of Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support.
Appealing the overpayment
If you don't agree with our original benefits decision, you must always appeal in writing within one month of the date on the notification letter if you want us to look at the decision again. If you do not understand the notification letter, you can contact us for a more detailed explanation or request a written statement of reasons.
Once we have received your appeal we will ensure that a different officer looks at the claim again. After the claim has been revised we will notify you of the outcome in writing. If you still disagree with the decision, the second stage is to appeal to an independent appeal tribunal administered by the Appeals Service. The tribunal will look at your case again to decide whether the correct decision has been made.
The Council will apply to the Court for an order of payment and an officer of the Court will make the decision to grant the order. Your debt will be registered as a Judgment of the Court and a copy of the order will be sent to you and to the Council.
If County Court action is taken you must contact the Council when you receive a copy of the order to make an arrangement to pay. If you don’t the Council will take action to enforce the order in one of the following ways:
- Warrant of Execution: Court Enforcement Officers will either collect the debt from you or take certain goods from your household to sell at auction to clear the debt.
- Attachment of Earnings or Benefit: Your employer or the Department for Work and Pensions will be contacted by the court and be told to take an amount from your weekly or monthly income to clear the debt.
- Third Party Debt Order: The Court will ‘freeze’ your bank or building society account(s) to allow the debt to be recovered from them.
- Charging Order: This means that if you sell your property, land or investments, the amount you owe the Council will be deducted from the proceeds.
- Bankruptcy: If you owe the council more than £5,000 we may apply to the court to make you bankrupt.
We may ask the County Court to ask you to attend Court for questioning. This will help us decide which enforcement action to take. They will ask you questions about your income, assets and outgoings and will pass this information on to us.
Your debt may be registered as a Judgment of the Court where the Council has tried and failed to recover the following:
- A Sundry Debt that you have been invoiced for
- A Housing Benefit overpayment where you have been invoiced because too much benefit was paid to you
- An Administrative Penalty that you have agreed to pay because an overpayment was considered to be fraudulent
We will only take County Court action when you are not making an attempt to repay the debt or have broken arrangements to pay.
Are there costs involved?
Yes. There is a standard cost for registering the Judgment at County Court. There are additional costs for each type of enforcement action that is taken. These costs will be added to the original debt, which will increase the amount you owe.
What can I do to avoid County Court action?
Repay the debt as soon as you possibly can. If you are unable to repay the debt all at once, you can make an offer of repayment by instalments.
You can also contact the Citizens Advice Bureau or other agencies for independent advice on debt proceedings or help with managing your debts.
Are there time limits for the recovery of debt through the County Court?
Yes. In England and Wales, County Court action may be taken against you within six years of the date of the overpayment decision, or the last time you acknowledged your overpayment in writing.
If your overpayment was considered fraudulent, the six years start from the date the fraud was discovered. There are no time limits for recovering your overpayment by any other method available to the Council.
Can I appeal to the County Court against an application for an order of payment of Housing Benefit?
Yes. If the notification of your overpayment is defective or your appeal has not been dealt with by the Council, you can make an application to the court for the setting aside of the order.
However, if you wish to appeal against the overpayment decision, you must write to the Council within one calendar month of the date we write to you about the overpayment.
If you wish to dispute or appeal against an invoice raised for a Sundry Debt then you must contact the department in the Council where the debt originated.