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Paying back a Housing Benefit overpayment

This advice applies to England

If you have to pay back a Housing Benefit overpayment, the council will usually ask you to pay it back in regular amounts. For example, they might reduce your Housing Benefit until they’ve got the extra money back. 

Paying back money can be worrying, but there are ways to make the payments easier to manage - like paying smaller amounts over a longer time.

If you have other debts, you should pay them back first if they have more serious consequences - for example if you might lose your home or have your electricity cut off. Check if you should pay back other debts first.

Tell the council if you have urgent debts - they might agree to:

  • wait until you’ve dealt with the urgent debts before taking any money

  • take smaller amounts from your Housing Benefit while you pay back the urgent debts

If you’re challenging the council’s decision about your overpayment

The council shouldn’t take any money until your appeal is decided. 

If the council take money before then, call them. Tell them that guidance from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says they should wait until your appeal is decided. You can find your council’s contact details on GOV.UK. 

If they still take money while you’re challenging the decision, you can complain about the council on GOV.UK.

Check how the council want you to pay the money back

The council will usually reduce your Housing Benefit until they’ve got the extra money back. If you don’t get Housing Benefit any more, they might:

  • take the money from your wages or other benefits

  • ask you to pay them directly - for example from your bank account

When the council wrote to tell you about the overpayment, they’ll have explained how they want you to pay the money back. If you don’t have a letter, call the council and ask them to write confirming how they want you to pay back the overpayment. You can find your council’s contact details on GOV.UK.

If the council want you to pay from your Housing Benefit

How you’ll pay the money back depends on whether your Housing Benefit is paid to you or your landlord.

Your Housing Benefit is paid to you directly

The council will usually take a basic amount of up to £11.10 each week. They can take up to £18.50 if the overpayment is because of ‘fraud’ - this means they think you deliberately gave them the wrong information. 

The council can only take more than the basic amount if they ignored some of your income when they worked out your Housing Benefit - called an ‘earnings disregard’. If you’re not sure, check the letter about how much Housing Benefit you’ll get.

Your Housing Benefit is paid to your landlord

The council will usually ask your landlord to pay them the whole overpayment at once. Your landlord will then ask you to pay the money back on top of your rent.

If you rent from a private landlord or letting agent, they’ll count the overpayment as ‘rent arrears’. 

It’s important to start paying it back so you can stay in your home - you can get help dealing with rent arrears.

If you rent from the council, they’ll add the overpayment to your rent account. The overpayment doesn’t count as rent arrears, so the council can’t evict you - but you’ll still need to pay off the debt. You can get help dealing with debts or ask your nearest Citizens Advice to help you.

If the council want you to pay a different way

There’s a limit to how much the council can take from your wages or benefits - it depends how much you earn each week or month.

Paying from your wages

The council might take money from your wages if you work for a company with 10 or more employees. They don’t need to ask your permission. 

Your employer will pay the council and take the money from your wages. 

You should get 2 letters telling you how much your employer will take - 1 from the council and 1 from your employer.

The council will work out what percentage of your wages to take. How much money they take depends on how much you earn. If you don’t think you can afford to pay, you can ask the council to reduce the amount they take from you.

If you earn up to £100 a week or up to £430 a month, the council won’t usually take anything from you.

How much you earn if you’re paid weeklyHow much you earn if you’re paid monthlyAmount taken from your wages
£100.01 to £160 £430.01 to £690 3%
£160.01 to £220 £690.01 to £950 5%
£220.01 to £270 £950.01 to £1,160 7%
£270.01 to £375 £1,160.01 to £1,615 11%
£375.01 to £520 £1,615.01 to £2,240 15%
£520.01 or over £2,240.01 or over 20%

The council can take more money from you if your overpayment is because of ‘fraud’. Fraud means the council think you gave the wrong information on purpose.

If the overpayment is because of fraud

The council can take a bigger percentage from your wages. They can also take money if you earn £100 or less a week (£430 or less a month).

The council won’t usually agree to reduce the amount they take, but you might be able to get extra help paying for other things.

How much you earn if you’re paid weeklyHow much you earn if you’re paid monthlyAmount taken from your wages
£100 or less £430 or less 5%
£100.01 to £160 £430.01 to £690 6%
£160.01 to £220 £690.01 to £950 10%
£220.01 to £270 £950.01 to £1,160 14%
£270.01 to £375 £1,160.01 to £1,615 22%
£375.01 to £520 £1,615.01 to £2,240 30%
£520.01 or over £2,240.01 or over 40%

If you leave your job

You must tell the council you’ve left - and who your new employer is, if you have one.

Paying from other benefits

The council can’t take money from:

  • tax credits

  • Child Benefit 

  • Guardian's Allowance 

They can take money from any other benefit to pay back the Housing Benefit overpayment. 

The council will usually take a third of your weekly benefit payment. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will write to tell you how much they’re taking from your benefit and how long for.

Paying the council directly

You’ll need to pay the council directly if you don’t get any benefits and they’re not taking money from your wages.

The council’s letter will explain the different ways you can pay the money, for example using online banking.

If you can’t afford the payments

You can ask the council to either:

  • cancel some or all of the overpayment

  • let you pay smaller amounts for a longer time

If you’re paying back your overpayment from other benefits, you’ll need to contact the DWP instead.

You’ll need to show you wouldn’t be able to afford essentials like food or electricity if you had to pay more. 

They won’t usually change your payments if the overpayment is because of ‘fraud’ - this means they think you deliberately gave them the wrong information.

Before you ask to change your payments, work out what you can afford to pay. It’s easier to get them to change your payments if you can show you’ve checked how much you can afford.

If you can’t afford to pay back anything at all, you can ask the council to cancel some or all of the overpayment. It’s unusual for the council to agree to this. They might agree if there’s very little chance you’ll ever be able to pay back the overpayment. For example, they might cancel the overpayment if you have a severe disability that means you’re not likely to earn more in the future.

Before you contact the council or DWP, check if you can get other evidence to show it would be hard to pay what they’re asking for. For example, you could ask your doctor to write a letter if the repayments will be difficult because of your health.

Asking to change your payments

Call the council if you’re paying:

  • from your Housing Benefit

  • from your wages

  • directly (for example from your bank account)

You can find your council’s contact details on GOV.UK.

If you’re paying the money from other benefits, call the DWP. You can find the phone number on a letter from the DWP about your benefit.

When you call, make a note of the date and time you call and the name of the person you spoke to. You might need these details if something goes wrong and your repayments aren’t changed.

If the council or DWP agree, they should write to you to confirm what has changed. Check the letter to make sure they’ve recorded the right change.

If the council won’t change how you pay

You can complain to your council if you think they’ve unfairly refused to change your payments. Find your council’s contact details on GOV.UK.

Extra help while you’re paying the money back

You might be able to get help with things like food or items you need for your home - for example a bed or cooker. Check what help you could get in your area.

If you’re worried about debts while your Housing Benefit is stopped or reduced, you can get help dealing with debt or ask your nearest Citizens Advice to help you work out what to do.

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