County Court Action
What is County Court action?
The council can apply to the County Court for help to recover housing benefit overpayments, where repayment has not been made and all other methods of recovery have failed. The council has a duty to recover housing benefit overpayments in the interests of sound financial management, which benefits all residents of the community.
The council will apply to the Court for an order of payment and an officer of the court will make the decision to grant the order. Your debt will be registered as a judgement of the Court and a copy of the order will be sent to you and to the council.
You must contact the council when you receive a copy of the order to arrange repayment of the overpayment. If you do not, the council will then enforce the order in one of the following ways, dependent on your circumstances:
- By warrant of execution – court bailiffs will either collect the overpayment from you or take certain types of your goods to sell at auction to clear the overpayment.
- By attachment of earnings – your employer will be contacted by the court and be told to take an amount from your earnings each pay day to clear the overpayment.
- By third party debt order – the court will ‘freeze’ your bank/building society account(s) to allow the overpayment to be recovered from them.
- By charging order – this will prevent you from selling your property, investments and land, without paying what you owe to the council.
- Bankruptcy – if you owe the council more than £750 we may apply to the court to make you bankrupt.
We may ask the County Court to conduct an oral examination with you. This will help us decide which enforcement action to take, as the court will find out about your income, assets and spending.
When will the Council take County Court action?
Your debt may be registered as a judgement of the court where the Council has tried and failed to recover: -
- A housing benefit overpayment where you have been paid more housing benefit than you are entitled to and which the council has written to you about.
- An administrative penalty which you have agreed to pay where your housing benefit overpayment was deemed to be fraudulent.
We will only consider taking County Court action when you are NOT making an attempt to repay the overpayment.
Are there costs involved?
There is a standard cost for registering the judgement at County Court. There are additional costs for each type of enforcement action that is taken against you and for an oral examination.
All these costs will be added to the original overpayment thereby increasing your debt. For details of current costs, contact the benefits section and ask for the overpayments team.
What can I do to avoid County Court action?
Repay the overpayment as soon as you possibly can.
If you are unable to repay the overpayment all at once, you may arrange to make repayments by instalments. Contact the benefits section and ask for the overpayments team for details.
You can also contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for independent advice on debt recovery proceedings or help with managing debt (click here to be taken to the Citizens Advice Bureau Web site).
Are there any time limits for recovery of an overpayment through the County Court?
Yes. In England and Wales, County Court action may be taken against you within six years of the date of the overpayment decision being made by the council or the last time you acknowledged your overpayment in writing.
If your overpayment was caused by fraudulent action, the six years starts from the date your fraudulent activity was discovered.
There are NO time limits for recovering your overpayment by any other recovery method available to the council.
Can I appeal to the County Court against the application for an order of payment?
Yes. If the notification of your overpayment is defective or your appeal has not been dealt with by the council, you can make an application to the court for the setting aside of the order.
No. If you wish to appeal against the overpayment decision, you must write to the council within one calendar month of the date we write to you about the overpayment.
You can pick up an appeals leaflet from either of the Customer Services centres at Lancaster or Morecambe Town Hall.
Do you require further information?
Should you require more information regarding housing benefit overpayments and County Court action, you can call in to the Customer Services centres at Lancaster or Morecambe Town Hall or using one of the methods at the bottom of this page.
REMINDER: Changes of Circumstances
You must tell us about any changes in your circumstances and in the circumstances of anyone who lives in your household, within one calendar month of the change (click here to download a Change of Circumstances form).
It is an offence to knowingly or dishonestly fail to notify the council promptly of a change in circumstances that could affect housing benefit entitlement or the amount of benefit payable.