Overpayments of benefits and financial support
An overpayment is an amount which has been paid to you that you were not entitled to receive. It's important to report any change in your circumstances as soon as possible and answer letters or online notifications you get about overpayments quickly.
Overpayments of benefit
An overpayment of benefit is an amount which has been paid to you that you were not entitled to receive. Overpayments can happen for several reasons, for example:
- you may not have told the benefit office about a change in circumstances or something it needed to know about
- you may have given incorrect information
- a mistake was made with your payment
The reason and period of your overpayment will be explained on your overpayment letter or notification on your Universal Credit account. It will also tell you if you have to pay the money back.
Reporting a change in your circumstances
It is important to report all changes in circumstances straight away:
- who you tell depends on which benefits you get so you’ll need to report your change to more than one benefit office if you get more than one benefit
- you need to report changes to your circumstances, so you keep getting the right amount of benefits
- your claim might be stopped or reduced if you do not report a change straight away or you give incorrect information
If you don't declare a change of circumstances
You may be committing benefit fraud if you know you've been overpaid but don't do anything about it or deliberately fail to report a change in your personal circumstances. If you're prosecuted for benefit fraud you could be fined or get a prison sentence, as well as having to repay the money.
If you disagree with the overpayment decision
If you disagree with the overpayment decision, contact the benefit office that sent the letter or notification on your Universal Credit account for an explanation.
If you aren’t satisfied with the explanation or the way your case has been handled, you can appeal.
Universal Credit Advances
If you have applied for Universal Credit and do not have enough money to live on, you can apply for an Advance loan. If you already get Universal Credit, you may be able to get a Budgeting Advance loan. More information on types of support available, application criteria and how to repay can be found at Universal Credit
Finance Support Service
The Finance Support Service supports people who live in Northern Ireland and need short-term financial help. This includes Discretionary Support, Social Fund Budgeting loans and short-term benefit advances. More information on the different types of loan, application criteria and how to repay can be found at Finance Support
Repayment difficulties with your overpayment or loan
If you are having difficulty repaying your benefit or Welfare Supplementary Payment overpayment, Social Fund or Discretionary Support loan, it’s important to act quickly. Even if you have made contact before, you can ask to consider reducing the amount you repay.
If you feel your repayments are no longer affordable, you can ask for them to be reduced by contacting Debt Management Northern Ireland.
If you’re repaying a Universal Credit advance payment, log into your online account and add a note to your journal asking for your repayments to be reduced or call the free Universal Credit Helpline.
Paying the money back
If the overpayment was your fault, you'll have to pay it all back. If a mistake was made with your payment, you may still be asked to pay it back, particularly if you could reasonably be expected to realise you were being overpaid. How you pay back the overpayment depends on whether you still receive benefits.
Making repayments if you are still receiving benefits
If you get a benefit, the amount you get will be reduced until you’ve paid back the money.
Making repayments if you no longer receive benefits
You’ll get a letter explaining how to Repay and manage benefit money you owe. You can pay back the overpayment in full by debit or credit card or set up regular monthly payments by direct debit.
Alternatively you can contact Debt Management Northern Ireland. You will need your bank details or debit or credit card and reference number (usually your National Insurance Number or reference quoted on your letter) when you phone.
You should be aware that choosing to repay using a credit card may incur extra costs. This could include a transfer fee and interest charges, which will vary depending on the annual percentage rate (APR) charged by your credit card provider.
You can find further information on payment using credit cards at Credit cards and debt.
There is also useful information on A simple guide to credit cards
If have concerns about your money or would like some free confidential debt advice, you can contact Advice NI
Paying by Cheque or postal order
These should be crossed and made payable to the 'Department for Communities only'. You must write your National Insurance number on the back of your cheque and post it to Debt Management Northern Ireland.
If you don't respond to requests for payment
If you’ve not paid in full or set up a repayment plan and you’re employed, your employer may be asked to take deductions directly from your earnings. This is called Direct Earnings Attachment.
Do not ignore repayment requests. If you are unable to set up a repayment plan and you don’t make contact with Debt Management Northern Ireland to discuss repayment, your debt may be referred to a debt collection agency or court action against you may be considered.
Any fees owed in taking this action will be added to your over-payment (debt) and recovered from you.
Waiving recovery of an overpayment
In exceptional circumstances recovery of all or part of an overpayment and Recoverable Hardship Payments may be waived. There needs to be very specific grounds to show that your circumstances will only improve by waiver of the overpayment.
There are several different reasons why waiver may be considered and not all have to be met for a waiver to be granted. Waiver will take into consideration your entire circumstances, as far as they are known, including the following:
- your financial circumstances and those of your family and household members
- whether the recovery of the debt is impacting your health or the health and welfare of your family
- how the overpayment arose, for example by fraud, the Department’s conduct, whether you took steps to report the change of circumstances which caused the overpayment, whether you made a mistake and failed to advise of a change which caused the overpayment
- whether you have relied on the overpayment to your cost such as making a financial commitment
- whether it was intended you have the money such as entitlement to another benefit which wasn’t paid
- where you can show that you did not benefit from the money that was paid
- any other reason which appears relevant or which indicates recovery would not be in the public interest
This is not an exhaustive list and all factors which appear relevant will be considered along with the individual circumstances of your application.
Asking for a waiver should normally be made in writing by you or your representative stating the grounds for the waiver request. There is no right of appeal against a decision not to apply discretion or if you disagree with the discretion applied. You may however be able to apply for a Judicial Review if it is felt that discretion was not properly applied.
Evidence to support a waiver request
When applying for a waiver, you are responsible for providing all necessary information and evidence to explain and support your application. This may include information about the overpayment, as well as detailing your personal circumstances.
Where the waiver is asked for on the grounds of severe financial hardship, you would need to show that this has been long standing and not expected to improve soon. The hardship must be of such severity that it is not reasonable to expect you to make even reduced payments.
Recovery of an overpayment may cause some level of hardship or stress. A request for a waiver on the grounds of welfare or ill health normally requires supporting evidence detailing how recovery of the debt is the main or only cause of the ill health, or the reason for your ill health getting worse.
Evidence includes a letter from a professional such as a GP, consultant, psychiatric nurse or support worker and must clearly show the effect the overpayment recovery is having on your health and prove that your circumstances will only improve by waiver of the debt. This must be the opinion of the professional writing the letter. This evidence should not simply be a list of any medical conditions you have.
If more information is required, you will be contacted in writing and asked to provide it before any decision.
You can send your waiver request to Debt Management Northern Ireland.
Housing Benefit and Rate Relief
If Housing Benefit or Rate Relief is paid directly to your landlord, they may be asked to repay the money if they caused or contributed to the overpayment. If the overpayment was your fault, you may have to repay it.
Tax Credit overpayments
If you receive Tax Credits and have been overpaid, your award and is usually reduced until the money is paid back. How much it's reduced by depends on the type and amount of your award. If anything is wrong, missing or incomplete, you need to contact HMRC.
If you no longer qualify for Tax Credits, you can repay the money as a lump sum or in instalments. HMRC will write to you to provide you with details of your unpaid debt balance as well as an explanation of what will happen next.
If you now receive Universal Credit, your tax credit debt will normally be recovered from your Universal Credit award.
If your Universal Credit award stops, the debt will be recovered by other available methods.
Repayments when someone has died
Benefit overpayments may be recovered from a person’s estate.
An overpayment could have happened because, for example, the person who died:
- had more savings than they declared in their benefit claim
- had not declared an income
- was in hospital or a nursing home and did not advise of this change
If you’re dealing with the estate, you will be contacted about arrangements to repay from the estate or requesting further information once probate has been granted.
If you do not provide the information asked for, the overpayment will be calculated based on the probate figure before any deductions (that is, the whole estate).
You should not distribute the estate until you know what needs to be repaid. If you do, you may have to pay back the money yourself.
If you wish to set up a repayment plan or need to discuss repayment further, you can call or write to Debt Management.