Over the next few months, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will be working together to uncover benefit fraud and error across six social security benefits, including Housing Benefit.
The DWP will use ‘Real Time Information’ from HMRC to identify cases where claimants have either failed to declare, or have under-declared, their income from earnings or from non-state pensions. Real time Information is a new system for collecting Pay As You Earn tax information from employers and pension providers, who are now required to provide HMRC with income details immediately after each payment they make.
This exercise is expected to run between September 2014 and April 2015. During this time, HMRC will pass on Real Time Information about earnings and pensions to the DWP and local authorities, so that they can match it with their benefit records.
The DWP estimates that they will identify 300,000 overpayments as a result of this initiative, of which more than 200,000 are expected to relate to Housing Benefit only cases.
If you’re found to have received a benefit overpayment because you haven’t provided your full income details, the DWP or local authority will take action to recover the overpayment from you. They may also decide to start a criminal investigation for fraud.
If you are paid more benefit than you are entitled to, this is an overpayment and, in some situations, must be repaid regardless of how it was caused. Except for housing benefit, the general rule is you must repay if it arose because you did not disclose something or you misrepresented something, regardless of whether this was your fault. Authorities have the discretion not to recover overpayments in certain situations.