Edgar received a notice from Barnet Council that his benefits had been overpaid and he had just 28 days to repay £21,000. Incredulous, he sought help from Citizens Advice Barnet to better understand his situation and seek a solution.
Help when it’s needed
Edgar has sought help from Citizens Advice Barnet at two very difficult moments in his life. The first, when his wife got cancer, and, the second, when he received an overpayment notice of £21,000 from Barnet Council.
In the first instance, we helped him to apply for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support. He was then able to retire a year early and become her full-time carer. With the support of these and her additional benefits, he is able to continue to care for her today.
The second instance, just four years later, occurred when Barnet Council determined that they had overpaid both the benefits that began when his wife became sick. Untangling and solving this took several months, the work of three advisers, and, according to Edgar, a “huge stack of paper.”
“This past July, I received a letter from Barnet council – Dear X, You are have been overpaid your housing benefit by £21,000 and you have 28 days to repay…The next day, I received a letter stating that both my Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support had been canceled and backdated to 2019…They completely stressed me out.”
Seeking help at Citizens Advice Barnet
He then decided to approach Citizens Advice Barnet at one of our Outreach locations. There, he met with Jonah who immediately emailed Barnet Council to better understand the situation.
Armed with more information, the case was passed to Generalist Adviser, Avril. Together, he and Avril reviewed the source of the problem: After establishing his housing Benefit and Council Tax Support in 2018, a Royal London policy matured and he received £15,000. Although he had immediately alerted the Housing Benefit office–and they photocopied the cheque– there was a delay of over three years before they reacted by sending the overpayment notice.
“What they had done was calculate the combination of housing benefit, council tax support, and my wife’s Employment and Support Allowance plus the £15,000.” As this summed to over £16,000, the maximum savings allowed when in receipt of benefits, they determined he was no longer eligible for support.
In the interim, he had spent the £15,000 on housing refurbishment, going on holiday, and to support his wife’s health.
“I told them I didn’t have the money…They said, sent us four years of bank statements and they might change their minds. I sent a huge stack of paper to Barnet Council then waited a month with no answer. Then, we received a letter saying we still have the money and they wouldn’t change the decision.”
Together, he and Avril determined that there was little chance of paying off the overpayment. He remained his wife’s primary carer and without any income support, they were just a few months away from being unable to pay their rent. Avril suggested that he think about a Debt Relief Order and referred him to Irma, a debt specialist at Citizens Advice Barnet.
Debt Relief Order
A Debt Relief Order is a government-sponsored solution to deal with personal debts you cannot pay. To apply, you must meet with an approved debt adviser, like Citizens Advice Barnet, and meet certain eligibility criteria. If approved, you stop making payments towards the debts listed in the Debt Relief Order for 12 months though you must otherwise remain in good financial standing. At the end of the 12 months, the debts are cleared.
With Irma’s help, Edgar made the Debt Relief Order application.
“Irma is the best thing since sliced bread. She sorted me right out. She contacted the Council and helped me apply for the Debt Relief Order and it was approved.”
Though he is still working with his Housing Assistance Office on getting the correct Housing Benefit in place, his relief is palpable.
“With the Debt Relief Order, there is a big pressure off my brain. I was always thinking, ‘What’s going on? How are we going to pay this money? Why have they done this after four years?’”
This pressure removed, he and his wife are better able to enjoy their new housing. Although smaller than their former lodging, they enjoy being surrounded by the Housing Association’s garden.
Every time I came to Citizens Advice Barnet, there was always a positive walking away and a little bit of hope.