The rules regarding overpayments are changing when Universal Credit (UC) is introduced and these changes will then also apply to Contributory Employment and Support Allowance (CESA) and Contributory Job Seekers Allowance (CJSA) at the same time and in the same way.
When can an overpayment of UC, CESA and CJSA be recovered?
All overpayments of these benefits can be recovered regardless of the cause of the overpayments. Under the rules applying to other benefits DWP have to prove that the overpayment arose due to misrepresentation or failure to disclose so it is often possible to dispute the overpayment.
If the overpayment has been caused by something such as capital or savings then the calculation of the sum that you owe will be reduced to take into account the sum that you would have spent from the capital if the benefit had not been paid.
You will only be able to argue that recovery should not be made if there has been a DWP error and if recovery would cause hardship. Any decision made about this will be discretionary so there will not be a right of appeal against it.
What can you do if you have been overpaid?
You can challenge an overpayment decision only on the basis of a calculation error. Calculation errors are relatively common so it is always advisable to see an advisor to have the calculation checked and to take advice about whether it is worth disputing the decision.
How will the sum be repaid?
The overpayments can be recovered by deductions for all benefits paid by DWP (this excludes Child Benefit and Guardians Allowance).
The rate of recovery of the overpayment is up to the maximum monthly rates given below. If there are several possible rates the DWP will apply the highest rate possible.
If the you or your partner has been found guilty of an offence or accepted a caution or agreed to pay a penalty in connection with an overpayment (offered where DWP would consider prosecuting and the penalty is an alternative to prosecution):
Single People under 25 £100.71
Single people over 25 £127.13
Couple both under 25 £158.08
Couple one or both over 25 £199.56
If the you or your partner has some earned income
Single People aged under 25 £62.94
Single People over 25 £79.46
Couple both under 25 £98.80
Couple one or both over 25 £124.72
In all other cases
Single person under 25 £37.77
Single people aged over 25 £47.67
Couple both under 25 £59.28
Couple one or both over 25 £74.83
These recovery rates are also used for recovery of short-term advances, budgeting advances, hardship payments and overpayments of Tax Credits (for people who are getting UC).
The DWP have to leave you with at least 1p of UC per month. DWP are also allowed to withhold any arrears of UC you are due for any reason and put these towards the overpayment.
Overpayments can also be recovered by deductions from earnings and through the courts.
What to do if this is causing hardship?
If the rate of deductions from your benefits is causing hardship then it should be possible to argue for the rate of payment to be reduced. You will need to work out the amount you think you can afford and write to DWP with a breakdown of your income and expenditure and an estimate of what you think would be a reasonable amount as well as including details of any other debts or problems you think are relevant. If you experience difficulties with this you should seek advice.