Many, but not all, benefit overpayments are recoverable (additional rules apply to overpayments of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. See What if I am overpaid Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support?
A benefit overpayment is recoverable from you if it is caused by your:
Failure to disclose.
Misrepresentation means that you have given information that is not correct or is incomplete. It may happen when you:
Make a claim for benefit by telephone or on a claim form
Fill in a form or write a letter or sign a document
Speak to someone at a benefit office.
The benefits office might decide that it was misrepresentation if you gave wrong information on a claim form and the award has always been incorrect.
To avoid misrepresentation, make sure that you:
Answer questions that the benefit office asks you correctly, checking your facts first if unsure
Do not ignore questions
Check that information is correct before you sign any form
Check the decision letter you receive when benefit is awarded.
Failure to disclose
A failure to disclose might apply to an award of benefit that has become incorrect because you either failed to:
give accurate and complete information that you were asked to give, or
report a change of circumstances that you could have reasonably been expected to know might affect your benefit.
Failure to disclose may happen where you:
Make a claim for benefit or complete a form
Speak to someone at a benefit office
Do not report a change which you could reasonably be expected to know affects your benefit.
To avoid failure to disclose, make sure you:
Answer all questions the benefits office ask you accurately and completely
Read all letters from the benefit office
Read leaflets sent to you about your benefits
Note the changes that you must report
Report any changes which you think may affect your benefit.
What if I did not misrepresent or fail to disclose?
If the benefits office decides that the overpayment was not caused by your misrepresentation or failure to disclose, the overpayment will not be recoverable and you cannot be made to repay it.
No civil penalty can be imposed if the overpayment is not recoverable.
However, even if an overpayment is not recoverable the benefits office may ask in their letter whether you want to pay it back anyway. If this happens, seek advice from a benefits adviser. You can use our Find an Adviser tool to find a local one.
Please note: Your duty to report changes of circumstances is set out in the letters awarding benefit to you. If for some reason you were not notified of your obligations, an overpayment may not be recoverable.
For example, if you are visually impaired and asked the Department for Work and Pensions to provide letters and leaflets about your benefits in large print but you only ever received letters in ordinary text, you may be able to argue you were not properly notified of your obligations to report specific changes of circumstances.
Please note: As part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 changes, all overpayments of Jobseeker's Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and housing costs paid with Pension Credit and Universal Credit will be recoverable, whatever the cause of the overpayment. However, the Government has not yet set a date for this rule to come into effect.
Will I always have to repay if I misrepresented or failed to disclose?
Even if an overpayment is recoverable, the benefits office can decide not to seek recovery or may accept partial recovery.
You can ask the debt recovery centre not to recover or to accept a lower rate of repayment. They are unlikely to agree unless you can show that you did not know that you were being overpaid and that it is very difficult for you to repay. You should contact the office shown on the letter you have received about the overpayment recovery to discuss this. We also recommend that you seek advice from a benefits adviser.
Can I be made to repay my partner’s overpayment?
Overpaid benefits can only be recovered from the person whose misrepresentation or failure to disclose caused the overpayment and cannot usually be recovered from anyone other than the claimant.
If however you or your partner are overpaid the following benefits and you were a couple at the time of the overpayment, it may be recovered from either partner's ongoing benefit as long as you remain a couple:
Seek advice from a benefits adviser if you are asked to repay your former partner’s overpaid benefit.