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Overpayment of housing benefit

What if I am overpaid benefit?

An overpayment is an amount that has been paid for which there was no entitlement. An example would be if a claimant failed to tell us that their income had increased. A recalculation of their entitlement could mean that they have been paid too much benefit.

A fraudulent overpayment may occur when a person has deliberately provided a false statement, or document. It could also be that a person has deliberately failed to report a change of circumstances. This is with the intention of obtaining or retaining benefit.

How do we deal with overpayments?

The rules concerning the administration of benefit overpayments are contained in the Housing Benefit Regulations. There are other subsequent legislations. We have a duty to implement these legal provisions. We also have a duty to recover overpayments from tenants and landlords. We may also decide to take criminal proceedings in respect of fraudulent overpayments.

Who are overpayments recoverable from?

An overpayment is recoverable from either the person who caused the overpayment, or the person who received the overpayment.

In the case of a landlord, it is only recoverable from them if:

  • they caused the overpayment; or
  • could reasonably have been expected to realise there was an overpayment.

Example 1 of overpayment

The Housing Benefit is being paid directly to the landlord. There is an overpayment due to the claimant starting work. If the landlord did not know that the claimant has started work, the overpayment is recoverable from the claimant.

Example 2 of overpayment

The Housing Benefit is being paid directly to the landlord. The overpayment is due to the claimant moving out. The overpayment is recoverable from the landlord. It is reasonable to expect them to have realised that their tenant had left.

How is benefit recovered from the tenant?

If the tenant is currently receiving Housing Benefit, the overpayment will be recovered from future benefit payments. This will be done by a weekly deduction known as a 'claw-back'.

If payments are made direct to the landlord, the tenant's reduced entitlement will be reflected by the amount of the benefit payment. It is issued every 4 weeks.

The tenant is responsible for paying any rent arrears that occur as a result of the reduced amount paid to the landlord.

If you are overpaid Housing Benefit we will write to you and tell you:

  • what your correct benefit is;
  • why you were overpaid;
  • how much the overpayment is;
  • the period it covers;
  • how the overpayment should be repaid;
  • how you can appeal if you think it is wrong.

If the tenant is not currently receiving Housing Benefit, the overpayment may be recovered from other benefits. An invoice for payment may be issued.

Recovery of an overpayment will not prejudice any criminal proceedings that may be taken by us in respect of fraudulent overpayments.

How is benefit recovered from a landlord?

If we recover an overpayment from a landlord, we will issue an invoice. We may make deductions from other tenants' benefits paid to that landlord. The amount of these deductions should not be treated as rent arrears for those tenants. The landlord must not try to recover the shortfall from them.

Recovery of an overpayment will not prejudice any criminal proceedings that may be taken by us in respect of fraudulent overpayments.

Is there a right of appeal?

See What are my Rights of Appeal? for further information on the Reconsiderations and Appeals process.

The claimant can ask for a review of a decision to calculate an overpayment. Any such request should be made within one month of the decision notice.

A landlord can request a review where recovery is being sought from him personally. That is where an invoice for payment has been issued to him. It could be that a deduction is being made from the benefit he receives for one of his tenants. The deduction is to recover an overpayment. The overpayment is owed by the landlord in respect of another tenant.

Where the overpayment is owed by the landlord, he will be notified in writing. Any request for a review should be made within one month of the decision notice.

A landlord can write to us at any time requesting a written statement of reasons for the recovery of an overpayment from him.

What will happen if an overpayment is not repaid?

We may take action in the County Court if:

  • an invoice addressed to a landlord remains unpaid; or
  • an agreed arrangement to repay the debt over time is not being maintained.

Important notes

A landlord can only request a review where recovery is being sought from him personally. This is where:

  • an invoice for payment has been issued to him;
  • a deduction is being made from the benefit he receives for one of his tenants. This is in order to recover an overpayment owed by the landlord.

If a landlord habitually fails to repay overpayments, we can decide that he/she is not a 'fit and proper person'. We can refuse to make direct benefit payments to that landlord.