Benefit Overpayment

It might not seem possible in a time where the benefit system is under so much scrutiny but sometimes you can get paid more benefit than you are actually entitled to. This is known as a benefit overpayment and it can really mess up your financial situation. Unless you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the overpayment was not your fault then you will be expected to repay the full amount of the overpayment.

How is it possible to be overpaid benefits

Overpayments can occur because of a variety of reasons. It could be a mistake on the part of someone who is entering your claim or details into the computer. It could also be because you have not reported a change in your circumstances. Whatever the reason, it is important that you deal with any overpayment issues as quickly as possible to reduce the amount you need to repay.

If there has been a change in circumstances in a benefit such as Housing Benefit that can take several weeks to process, it is a good idea to get an advisor to do a calculation when you tell them about the change of circumstances. This calculation will be able to give you some idea of what the change of circumstances will do to your payments so you can see what if the payments are going to be less than you currently get. If it is you can save the difference from your current payments so that when they ask for the overpayment back you have the funds ready and waiting to produce for them.

Finding out you have been overpaid

There are a couple of ways that you may find out if you have been over paid. You may see on your award notification that some of the information that has been added is inaccurate. If this is the case you need to let the appropriate agency know straight away as failure to disclose that information can be considered to be fraudulent leading to a potential prosecution. You may receive a letter explaining about the overpayment from the benefit agency that deals with your claim.

This letter will tell you lots of information about both the claim and the details of the overpayment. This information could be pointing out that the agency believes that the error was not your fault and that you will not have to repay the amount that has been overpaid. The letter will tell you how much has accidentally been overpaid to you and whether or not you need to repay the amount.

If you do need to repay the letter will also outline whether the overpayment will be taken from your on-going benefit amount or if you have to pay back the money from your own funds. If the overpayment is not being taken from your benefit and you can’t afford to pay the money back all at once, the letter will also outline ways for you to create an affordable payment plan with the benefit agency. More often than not this is by ringing the department and talking to someone about the difficulties you are having making the payment.

Can you avoid paying the money back?

Sometimes the mistake is made by the agency that processes your claim for benefit. It can be a figure entered wrong somewhere, information misunderstood, or another type of clerical error. Unless you have a full knowledge of all the factors that go into determining the amounts of a claim, you may not realise that the mistake has happened.

For example if you have a child that is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance who then loses the entitlement you have to report that change of circumstances to the Housing Benefit people. If they forget to take that into consideration it is not always really clear what all the applicable amounts mean and you may not realise that the information has not been changed.

When notified about the overpayment, if you can prove that you provided the information at the relevant time, the office may consider that you could not have known that the change had not been made, particularly if you were reporting other changes at the same time. In this kind of situation you may not have to pay back the overpayment as they would consider it to be totally their fault.

To this purpose it is essential to keep receipts of every bit of proof you provide as well as a transcript of any conversations if possible. At the very least, record the date and time you report the change, the nature of the change and the full name of the person you reported it to. If you have that information you have a much higher chance of proving that you are not at fault.

No matter which benefit you are on you need to report changes of circumstances as soon as they happen to reduce the amount of time you are being paid at a potentially inaccurate rate. You may not feel that the change of circumstances will affect your benefit but it is worth reporting it anyway just to be safe. Changes that you need to report include change of address, telephone number and email address, changes in your employment status, including overtime and bonuses you get, increased or decreased hours, gaining or losing employment or changes in the amount of the hours you work.

You also need to report if you have anyone moving into or out of your home, this could be a partner, a child or even just a lodger. With children you need to report if you have a new baby or if an existing child reaches 16 and leaves full time education. You also need to report changes in your health or level of disability, but in this case you only need to let the agency you get the illness or disability benefit from.

If you have been told that you have an overpayment that you need to repay not only can you petition to have an affordable payment schedule organised, you also have the right to appeal the decision that has been made. You actually have the right to appeal about all aspects of your benefit if you think the agency is in the wrong regarding your claim and overpayments come under this appeal umbrella.

When you first get the letter explaining about the overpayment you can to start off with contact the relevant agency and ask them to first explain and then reconsider the claim you have made. If that does not satisfy you it is then possibly to open an appeal to ask an independent adjudicator to look at your claim as well. This process applies to overpayments the same as it does to new claim decisions.

You need to ask for the decision to be looked at, reconsidered or appealed against within one month of receiving the information about it so if you think that the overpayment is not right, set the ball rolling as soon as possible. You will be told how to take your case to the appeal process on the letter you receive outlining the overpayment.

Contact your benefit advisor, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau or your local Jobcentre Plus for any help you may need on either the overpayments or the appeal process.