Recovery of social welfare overpayments
Overpayments may occur if an extra payment of an allowance, pension, assistance or any other benefit is made to you by the Department of Social Protection.
If you have been overpaid, the Department will inform you of:
- The reason(s) for the overpayment
- The amount involved
- The way the Department proposes to recover the amount that has been overpaid.
The liability to repay overpayments may continue to exist after your death. Your personal representatives may be asked to repay the amounts owed from your estate.
Changes in 2013
The Social Welfare Act 2012 changed the procedure for repayments of overpayments. Since 28 January 2013, 15% of your personal weekly rate of payment can be deducted to recover an overpayment. Before that you had to give your written consent for any deduction that brought your payment below the weekly rate of Supplementary Welfare Allowance for your family circumstances.
Deductions of up to 15% can be also made from your earnings (under section 15 of the Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013. An overpayment can also be taken from money that you hold in a bank or other financial institution. It is also possible that you may not be able to withdraw money from a bank account (for example) until the overpayment has been repaid. You must be notified in writing before deductions can take place.
Note: Since 1 August 2014, under the Recovery of Certain Benefits and Assistance (RBA) Scheme the Department of Social Protection can recover the value of certain illness-related social welfare payments from compensation awards made following non-fatal personal injuries claims. This procedure is different from the recovery of overpayments covered in this document.
Repaying the overpayment
The Department can ask you to repay the overpayment by:
- Making a single payment to repay the full overpayment
- Making weekly or monthly cash repayments until the overpayment is paid off
- If you are still getting a social welfare payment, by deductions from your weekly payment (and by withholding any arrears of payment that may be due to you)
When deciding the rate of repayment, the Department will look at the following factors:
- Your ability to repay
- Any relevant facts or circumstances that you have raised
- The amount of the overpayment and how it happened
If you cannot afford to repay the overpayment
The Department will suggest a repayment method that it believes you can afford. If you cannot afford to repay the amount you were overpaid, the repayment may be reduced, deferred or suspended. If your circumstances subsequently improve, you will be required to repay the amount owed at a rate you can afford. If you do not repay social welfare overpayments, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection may take a civil case against you through the courts system. If your overpayment arose as a result of fraud you may be criminally prosecuted (see ‘Fraud’ below).
What if you could have got paid under a different scheme
If you received payments that you were not entitled to under one social
welfare scheme, but would have been entitled to payments under another scheme,
this will be taken into consideration in deciding how much you have to repay.
When is repayment reduced or cancelled?
The Department of Social Protection makes every effort to recover the overpayment in full. The Department may reduce or cancel an overpayment if it occurred because it:
- Failed to act within a reasonable period of time on information it received about you
- Made an mistake that you could not reasonably be expected to have noticed
If you think that the Department has made an error, you should bring the matter to the Department's attention as soon as possible.
If the overpayment happened as a result of fraud the Department can take a criminal prosecution against you (even if you pay back the overpayment). The most common types of welfare fraud include:
- Concurrent working and claiming: Where a person claims a payment, such as Jobseeker's Benefit/Allowance or an illness payment, but takes up employment and does not notify the Department.
- Non-disclosure of means: Where a person claims a means-tested payment but does not fully disclose their means or sources of income. Note that If you or your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant are getting a means tested social welfare payment and save a portion of this payment each week, these savings as well as savings from most other sources will be taken into account as part of your means. It is important to notify the Department of these savings to avoid an overpayment.
- Multiple claiming or personation: Where a person makes a claim for more than one social welfare payment or by assuming and falsely using the identity and PPS Number of another person.
- Life events: Where a person continues to claim a payment to which he/she is no longer entitled such as a lone parent who marries or is cohabiting, or someone who continues to claim Carer’s Allowance where caring duties have ceased.
- Cohabitation: People may be living as a family unit and fail to notify this to the Department to qualify for higher rates of payments, or payments to which they may not be entitled.
- Social insurance: Where employers fail to maintain appropriate employment/wage records and where non-compliance or non-remittance of PRSI (Pay Related Social Insurance) occurs.
- Non-residency in the State: Where a person claims a social welfare payment which requires residency, and he/she is no longer resident.
You can read more about the Department’s efforts to counteract fraud in its Compliance & Anti-Fraud Strategy 2014-2018 (pdf).