The council says you've had a Housing Benefit overpayment
If your local council think you’ve had too much Housing Benefit (called an ‘overpayment’), they’ll usually reduce or stop your payments until they’ve got the extra money back.
You might be able to ask the council to reduce the amount you have to pay back, for example if they’ve made a mistake. You could also ask them to let you pay it back in smaller amounts, for example if paying more wouldn’t leave you enough to live on.
Check if the council made a mistake
The council might think you’ve been overpaid because they’ve got some information wrong. For example, they might think:
you’re earning more than you are
you’ve got a spare room
someone else should be helping to pay the rent
The council should write to tell you why they think you’ve been overpaid - if they don’t, call them and ask. You don’t have to agree with their reasons - tell them you’ll contact them again when you’ve thought about the information. You should also ask them to send you a letter confirming why they think you’ve been overpaid.
Make a note of the date and time you call, and write down the name of the person you spoke to. You might need these details if you challenge the overpayment.
Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need help. An adviser can talk to the council on your behalf.
If you think you were paid the right amount
You can challenge the council’s decision. You'll need to explain why you think you weren't overpaid.
If you’ve been paid too much by mistake
Read the overpayment letter, or call the council, to find out if they want you to pay back the overpayment. Sometimes they won’t ask you to pay them back if they know the overpayment was their fault.
You should usually challenge paying back an overpayment if it wasn’t your fault and you couldn’t have known you were being overpaid. For example, you could challenge if the council:
made a mistake when calculating your payments
didn’t correctly record your information or a change of circumstances you told them about
didn’t put right a mistake you told them about
If they do want you to pay them back, find out how to challenge the decision.
If the council didn’t make a mistake
You’ll usually need to pay the money back if you didn’t tell the council something you were meant to - for example if:
your rent went down
you earned more - for example because you worked more hours
your other benefits changed
someone moved into or out of your home
someone started getting Carer’s Allowance for looking after you
If you have to pay the money back
Tell the council if you can’t afford to pay anything at all. You’ll need to show you wouldn’t be able to pay for essentials like rent or electricity. Fill in a budgeting tool and print the results to help you show the council you wouldn’t have enough money to spare.
If you can afford to pay some money back, check if you can make the payments easier to manage - for example by paying smaller amounts over time.