BENEFITS EXPERT: Council can ask for money back

We recently in March qualified for our State Pensions. Prior to this we had been receiving full Housing and Council Tax Benefits. After two further payments of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit the payments stopped and we were asked to provide updated information within 28 days, which we duly did. We have now had a letter from the council saying we have been paid £121.73 too much which we should have realised had been wrongfully paid. I do not see how this could be so when I had given them all the information they asked for and I do not know how these benefits are calculated. Also are the council entitled to demand repayment immediately or can we be given time to pay?

Monday, 13th June 2016, 12:30 pm
You may be able to pay by instalments

An overpayment of Housing Benefit occurs when someone is awarded payments to which they were not entitled. This may be because there was a change in a person’s circumstances which the local authority did not know about.

I do not know how the overpayment has come about in your case but I suspect it has something to do with the award of the State Pension in March. If the State Pension had been newly awarded or increased at the time, your entitlement to Housing Benefit would have been reduced. If there was a delay in reducing your Housing Benefit you would have been overpaid.

You are not required to repay an overpayment if it was caused by ‘official error’. That is to say you did not contribute to causing the overpayment. However, the law says that ‘if you could reasonably have been expected to realise that it was an overpayment’ the onus is upon you to tell them, rather than; not for them to ask you.

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If you can give me more detail of how the overpayment came about I will advise you about how strong a case you have to challenge the request for repayment.

The local authority may seek recovery by instalments or in a lump sum depending upon the circumstances. In the last resort the authority may take action through the Courts but tin all cases the person can negotiate with the authority about how to re-pay the money owed.

I have just been given my State Pension of £177.52 a week which includes a £21.87 a week protected payment. But what has happened to the contributions I paid for Graduated Pension for all those years?

Under the new rules, Graduated Pension will not be paid to those reaching pension age from April 6, 2016. However, the protected payment ensures pensioners like you are no worse off than under the old system.