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.
Over-payments can happen for a number of reasons, for example:
- you may have given incorrect information
- you may not have told the Department for Communities (DfC) something it needed to know about
- you may have been slow to tell DfC about a change in circumstances
- a mistake was made with your payment
The reason and period of your over-payment will be explained on your over-payment letter or notification on your Universal Credit account. It will also tell you if you have to pay the money back.
Repayment difficulties with your debt or loan
If you are having difficulty repaying your benefit or Welfare Supplementary Payment over-payment, 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.
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.
Benefits: report a change in your circumstances
- 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 an over-payment
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.
Paying the money back
If the over-payment 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.
If the person who was overpaid has died, there is a different process for repayment, as covered on this page in the section ‘Repayments when someone has died’.
If you get a benefit, the amount you get will be reduced until you’ve paid back the money.
If you no longer get a benefit, you can pay monthly by direct debit. You can also pay in full by debit card, credit card, cheque or postal order.
To make monthly payments by direct debit, phone Debt Management. You will need your bank details when you phone.
Debit or credit card
To pay by debit or credit card, phone Debt Management. You will need your debit or credit card and reference number 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.
For more information on payment using credit cards :
Money Helper - 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
Cheques or postal orders
These should be crossed and made payable to 'Department for Communities only'. You must write your National Insurance number on the back of your cheque and post it to Debt Management.
Direct Earnings Attachment
If you’ve not paid in full or set up a repayment plan with Debt Management and you’re employed, the DfC may ask your employer to take deductions directly from your earnings. This is called Direct Earnings Attachment.
In exceptional circumstances the Department for Communities has the discretion to waive recovery of all or part of an over-payment and Recoverable Hardship Payments.
Waivers are only granted in exceptional circumstances and there needs to be very specific grounds to show that your circumstances will only improve by waiver of the over-payment.
There are several different reasons why the Department may consider waiver 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 over-payment arose for example by fraud, the Department’s conduct, whether you took steps to tell the Department of the change of circumstances which caused the over-payment, whether you made a mistake and failed to tell the Department of a change which caused the over-payment.
- Whether you have relied on the over-payment to your cost such as making a financial commitment
- Whether the Department intended you to 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 the Department has not properly applied discretion.
Evidence to support 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 over-payment, 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 over-payment will cause some level of hardship or stress and therefore evidence to support a waiver on the grounds of welfare or ill health is normally required and would be expected to detail 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 to support this should be a letter from a professional such as a GP, consultant, psychiatric nurse or support worker. This evidence must clearly show how the effect the recovery is having on your health and it can be clearly proven 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 the Department considers that more information is required, you will be written to and asked to provide it before making a 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 over-payment. If the over-payment was your fault, you may have to repay it.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will send you a notice whenever your award changes. It will ask you to make sure the information about your personal circumstances shown on your award is right and complete. If anything is wrong, missing or incomplete, you need to contact HMRC.
Your Tax Credits award 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 you no longer qualify for Tax Credits, you can repay the money as a lump sum or in instalments.
If you receive Universal Credit, your tax credit debt will normally transfer to the DfC and it will be recovered from your Universal Credit award.
If your Universal Credit award stops, the debt will be recovered by other available methods.
Tax Credits Debt Transfer
From 14 June 2019 HMRC began to transfer some Tax Credits debts for customers who were not getting Universal Credits to the DfC for recovery.
If you have a Tax Credit debt and your claim has ended, you are not claiming Universal Credit and are in PAYE employment with earnings of £5,200 or more from a single employer, but do not have a repayment arrangement with HMRC, you may be affected.
HMRC will write to you if your debt is moving to the DfC. The letter will provide you with details of your unpaid debt balance as well as an explanation of what will happen next.
Repayments when someone has died
The DfC can recover benefit over-payments from a person’s estate.
An over-payment 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 had not told DfC
If you’re dealing with the estate, the DfC will write to you about arrangements to repay from the estate or may request further information once probate has been granted.
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.
What you need to do
You’ll be asked to provide information to help work out if anything needs to be repaid.
You may need bank statements, building society passbooks or other information about the dead person’s assets.
If you do not provide the information asked for, the over-payment will be calculated based on the probate figure before any deductions (that is, the whole estate).
If there has been an over-payment
The DfC will write to you asking for the money back from the estate. They will tell you how any over-payment has been worked out and explain why it happened. They will also tell you how to pay.
If you need to discuss your payment, or setting up a repayment plan, you can call or write to the DfC’s Debt Management Office.
From time to time your disability benefits will be reviewed if you receive:
- Employment and Support Allowance
- Personal Independence Payment
- Disability Living Allowance
- Attendance Allowance
- Incapacity Benefit
- the 'disability premium' with another benefit, such as Income Support or Housing Benefit
If your condition has improved, you may no longer qualify for the benefit. You won't have to repay anything you've already received unless you could reasonably have been expected to realise the improvement in your health would affect the amount of benefit you get.
If you don't respond to requests for payment
If you ignore payment requests or do not offer a suitable amount, your debt may be referred to a debt collection agency or court action may be taken against you.
Any fees owed in taking this action will be added to your over-payment (debt) and recovered from you.
If you disagree with the over-payment decision
If you disagree with the over-payment 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.