Can benefits or universal credit debt be waived by DWP? Tribunal forces government to release appeal criteria
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Whether you’re a short term claimant of universal credit or rely on benefits from the DWP to get by - you may have received a letter from the government detailing debt you’re now in due to an overpayment on their side.
When a single mum of two disabled children found herself in over £8,000 of benefits debt, she took to the court to fight back. In a groundbreaking case, the judge agreed she acted in accordance with the DWP’s guidelines and fit the criteria to have her debt waived… despite the DWP originally refusing to budge.
According to figures provided in court, there were 337,000 individual cases of Universal Credit official error overpayments in 2020/2021 but just ten people saw their debt waived. In 2023, the number rose to a modest 29.
The outcome of the landmark court case involving the woman, named ‘K’ for legal reasons, and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, forced the government to make public its benefits overpayment debt waiver criteria. Here’s everything you need to know about getting your benefit debt waived.
Can my benefits or universal credit debt be waived by DWP?
The judge ruled the DWP unlawful for withholding the Overpayment Recovery Guide it uses to determine a claim. Therefore, the guide has now been released to the public and experts suggest it could be easier for benefit claimants to understand how they can apply for a waiver.
You can view the entire Benefits Overpayment Recovery Guide on the government website.
Does the overpayment guide include all types of benefits?
No, the Benefits Overpayment Recovery Guide does not include information relating to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit overpayments or recoveries made under the Compensation Recovery scheme. However, information can be obtained from the DWP upon request.
Will my benefits debt be waived if I’m financially struggling?
Unfortunately, the court’s judgement in K’s case revealed that financial hardship alone isn’t enough to warrant benefit debt to be waived. However, the Benefits Overpayment Recovery Guide outlines to staff that all debts should be recovered without causing ‘undue financial hardship to debtors’.
Alexander McColl, from Garden North Court Chambers, which advised the Public Law Project on K’s case, has provided an explanation on using the Benefits Overpayment Recovery Guide which can be found on the Garden North Court Chambers website.
According to McColl, financial hardship won’t be enough to justify a claim but it ‘will be relevant when combined with other factors’.
Could my benefit debt be waived? Points to consider
How did the overpayment arise?
If you believe the DWP has consistently miscalculated your entitlement to benefits or miscommunicated your entitlement to you - this could be considered a “profound lapse in service”.
Alternatively, it will help to prove the DWP has provided you with a clear and concrete understanding of your entitlement to the owed money.
How did you respond?
Your case will be much stronger if you have been punctual with the DWP. If you have provided relevant information on time and taken steps to confirm the validity of your claim, you have a strong case.
How have you spent the money?
Typically, claimants will be asked to pay back money that has already been spent. If so, it is helpful to provide evidence this money has been spent in good faith - e.g. on living expenses, bills etc.
Has an overpayment blocked you from further benefits?
Has the debt had a significant impact on your health/welfare?
A waiver should be granted where it is clear from all the evidence available that overpayment recovery will put you or your family at risk of poor health and welfare. Evidence of ill health or wellbeing is important in these cases.