Overpayment Recovery Strategy

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1 Overpayment Recovery Strategy

2 Strategy To recover overpayments as quickly as possible having regard for the circumstances of the debtors. Key Objectives To arrange benefit deductions for those on ongoing benefit For those not on benefit to use all collection methods available Take lump sum where capital exists Background Historically, we have sought to recover overpaid housing benefit using two different I.T. systems, which were not integrated. This meant there was a lot of manual intervention required in the processing of the debt and that to a certain extent the overpayment was forgotten in terms of benefits assessment once it had left the benefits system. The new system addresses this problem and provides integration and more functionality than we had previously. However, it is important to recognise that it is still early days with the new system and that we have to develop new processes between housing benefits and recovery staff. For this reason this strategy is to be introduced over a number of years. Notwithstanding the above we have the opportunity to move forward with our overpayment recovery and in line with the drive for continual improvement we will strive to maximise recovery of overpaid housing benefit. Aims This can be achieved by ensuring that: All currently available methods of recovery are used Maximum use is made of deductions from ongoing housing benefit. Greater use is made of the DWP s Remote Access Terminal Greater use is made of the DWP s Debt Management Services. The number of debtors paying by Direct Debit is increased. Greater use is made of different debt collection agencies and tracing agencies. Debts are passed to the rent account when considered appropriate. Debts are recovered from landlords where appropriate.

3 Target In setting this long-term recovery strategy it is recognised that annual targets are required which can focus the efforts of staff and are both Challenging and achievable. Without a significant change in benefits administration arrangements Caerphilly is likely to continue to have a large value of outstanding overpayment. Year on year reductions are to be sought in the value of outstanding overpayment. The target for 2004/05 is to reduce the value of outstanding overpayments to less than 900k. In conjunction with the Head of Corporate Finance this target will be reviewed annually. All currently available methods of recovery are used All methods of recovery currently available are to be used appropriately having regard for the circumstances of the individual from whom recovery is sought: Deduction from ongoing benefit Sending Invoices Recovery from housing benefit paid to a landlord/agent for another blameless tenant Deduction from arrears of housing benefit that become payable while there is an outstanding overpayment Deduction from the claimant s ongoing housing benefit in another area Debiting a rent rebate overpayment to the tenant s rent account in certain circumstances Deduction from certain DWP benefits Using the services of debt collection agencies Civil proceedings Attachment of earnings /bankruptcy

4 Maximum use of deductions from ongoing housing benefit is made When a new benefit claim is being processed for a former claimant the new software highlights the fact that there is an outstanding overpayment for that claimant. This enables deductions from ongoing benefit to be instigated timeously. Greater use of the DWP s debt management services is made The DWP has reorganised it s debt recovery services to create one Debt Centre in Wales and the rules applying to recovery of overpaid housing benefit from DWP benefits have been relaxed. Provided Caerphilly CBC is unable to recover the overpayment by deduction from ongoing Housing Benefit, it is now possible to apply for deductions to be made from certain DWP benefits immediately an overpayment is calculated. The benefits from which deductions are permissible are prescribed within the Housing Benefit (General) Regulations and include: Income Support Attendance Allowance Jobseeker s Allowance Disability Living Allowance Incapacity Benefit Industrial Death Benefit Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit Carer s Allowance (formerly Invalid Care Allowance) Maternity Allowance Retirement Pension Severe Disablement Allowance Widowed Mothers Allowance Widows Pension Pension Credits Greater use is made of the DWP s Remote Access Terminal The DWP has provided Local Authorities with access to specified benefit data via Remote Access Terminal (RAT) computer links to it s mainframe system. The only legitimate use of a rat is to check and / or receive information for the purpose of administering Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit claims. In this context Administration includes those activities necessary to investigate overpayments. Maximum use of this facility will enable the tracing of debtors who may still reside in the borough but are not claiming Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit and are not liable for Council Tax at their home. The database will also indicate where a DWP benefit is in payment to the debtor enabling the use of deductions as outlined above.

5 The number of debtors paying by Direct Debit is increased The Direct Debit Scheme is an efficient way for organisations to collect regularly occurring payments from large numbers of customers, it has benefits for all parties concerned and is growing in popularity with around two thirds of people in the UK paying at least one bill this way. Where a debtor is unable to repay the debt on demand and has entered into an agreement to repay the debt by instalments, every effort will be made to encourage the debtor to make those payments under the Direct Debit scheme. Promotion of the scheme will include recommending it when discussing the agreement, inserting a Direct Debit mandate with the instalment agreement and by advising debtors with bank accounts who default on instalment agreements that Direct Debit will be mandatory if they wish to continue with the agreement. Consideration is given to using different debt collection agencies and tracing agencies Experience has shown that debt collection agencies standard of performance can deteriorate over time. Therefore, analysis of their performance should be undertaken and where necessary consideration should be given to the use of other agencies in the market place. This also applies to the use of tracing agencies, which will only be used after interrogation of the DWP s database fails to provide an address for a debtor. Debts are passed to the rent account when considered appropriate In certain circumstances it is appropriate to transfer the overpayment on to the rent account. Typically, this will be in cases where the tenancy has ended and there is a credit balance on the rent account. Financial Assessment Corporate View Caerphilly CBC will always have regard for the particular circumstances of the debtor taking into consideration their health and financial position. This will involve working with other sections within corporate finance including Council Tax, Rents and Sundry Debtors in order to take into account any agreement already in existence between the debtor and those sections. Income and Expenditure The use of the current income and expenditure questionnaire in the reaching of repayment agreements with debtors will continue. Where a debtor is unable to repay the debt on demand debt counselling will be given using the income expenditure questionnaire, which will be thoroughly examined on completion. Evidence of expenditure will be sought before the rate of repayment is determined and where loan repayments are included in the expenditure items a review of the rate of repayment will be carried out at the end of the loan period.

6 Notwithstanding the above, a review of the repayment rate will be carried out at least annually in all cases where the term of repayment exceeds 12 months. The purpose of the review is to increase the rate of repayment without causing hardship to the debtor. Capital Where there is evidence of capital on the debtors benefit claim file and the total of the capital is less than the outstanding debt, the debtor will be asked to make an initial lump sum payment equal to the total amount of capital in their account less 250. The basis for this decision is that it is unlikely the debtor would have that amount of capital if s/he had not regularly been overpaid housing benefit. Where there is evidence of capital on the debtors benefit claim file and the total of the capital is at least equal to the outstanding debt plus 250, the debtor will be advised to make payment in full and will not be eligible for repayment of the debt by instalments. The basis for this decision is that the debtor is able to afford to repay the debt and had s/he not been overpaid housing benefit on a regular basis it is arguable that the capital would have accrued. Analysis of Debt Reporting of Management Information In order to enable senior management to monitor and report on the progress of the overpayment recovery function, management information extracted from the Academy Overpayment Recovery system will be provided on a bimonthly basis to the Head of Corporate Finance. Targeting Recovery Action It is important that analysis of the overpaid housing benefit takes into consideration the level and age of the debt within the system in order to concentrate efforts appropriately. This will enable more intensive recovery methods to be directed towards the higher value debt e.g. telephone debt recovery and home visits. Regular analysis will also assist in the identification of inactive debt that should be written off.

7 Payment Arrangements Overpayments can be repaid to the Council in a number of ways: Visit to the cash office Post Direct debit Telephone line for credit / debit card For council house tenants, the rent collector can also collect payments, on a fortnightly basis. Write Offs There is a point within the recovery process where consideration has to be given to the recoverability of debt and the possibility of writing off the debt. A recoverable overpayment of Housing Benefit will only be written off where it is perceived the recovery process has come to the end of the road. Ordinarily, write offs occur in the following circumstances: Where the debtor has died and there is no estate. All appropriate methods of recovery have been attempted and failed. Where the debtor has so much other priority debt as to render further recovery unlikely for the next 12 months. Where the Council is approached by the debtor or the debtor s representative to consider writing off the debt, consideration will be given to financial hardship, priority debts and the health of the debtor and members of the household. Ultimately, the writing off of debt is to be used as a last resort. Write off reports will be provided to the Head of Corporate Finance on a quarterly basis.

8 Overpayment Recovery Procedures Invoice 14 Days 1st Reminder Letter 14 Days 2nd Reminder Letter Housing Benefit in Payment Consider Deductions from Ongoing Benefit No Housing Benefit in Payment RAT Enquiry DWP Benefit in Payment No DWP Benefit in Payment Send Application for Deductions Forwarding Address Known Visit/Telephone Debt Recovery No Forwarding Address Known Refer to Tracing Agency Over 200 Refer to Legal Under 200 Refer to Debt Collection Agency

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