What would you do if you were told the benefit payments you had been receiving for the past three years were for the wrong amount and you now owed back over£11,000? Pay it back?
This is what Amy* was preparing to do. Believing she had done everything by the book, she didn’t really understand where it had gone wrong.
Leaving single mum of two with a huge financial burden, our Money Support Officer, Vicky was called on to help. From the initial contact with Amy, something didn’t add up for Vicky. Determined to get to the bottom of it, Vicky quickly managed to unravel what had gone on. We went to meet Amy to find out more.
The first Amy knew of any discrepancy was when she received a council tax bill saying she owed over £2000. Shocked and confused, she contacted housing and this was when she had discovered that her award had been assessed incorrectly for the past three years and in fact owed over £11,000.
Understandably Amy got very upset and anxious about the money but accepted it and was willing to pay it back. ‘I didn’t sleep properly for a while. You get told you owe money, you’re going to pay it. Council tax was over £2,000 and rent was over £9,000, so it was a hell of a lot of money. They wanted me to pay it off at around £20 a week, which would have been for about 8 years.’
‘I spoke to Rowena, my Income Manager at Town and Country and she put me in touch with Vicky’. Vicky contacted Amy that same week and Amy was quick to provide Vicky with all the paperwork needed. Vicky could quickly see that something wasn’t quite right. Under further investigation she was able to work out that Amy had been receiving extra tax credits towards her childcare costs but had not provided evidence of the costs to Housing Benefit.
‘When I was with my ex all the rent just went out of his bank. I was always paying childcare but I never knew that I had to tell them. I didn’t know that me paying childcare would come into a rent consideration.’
‘The first time I spoke with Vicky, I think I cried. But after talking to her she made me feel more confident. At the end of the day I had it in my head that if I had to pay it I would pay it. But just having her say she thought I could get some money taken off made me feel a little bit better.’
However, with Vicky’s help, Amy managed to provide all the evidence of her childcare costs spanning back over the last three years to the Council and once they had reassessed it reduced the overpayment back to zero balance. “Getting it all off was really good. It really was such a shock. I wasn’t expecting it to be all of it, I was still expecting to pay something.’
It took Vicky just three weeks working with Amy over the phone to get this resolved. Amy managed to get all her paperwork quickly to Vicky by email. Any hardcopy documentation she took photos using her phone and sent them on. Amy can now rest easy at night knowing she no longer has this financial worry over her.
Would recommend or use the Money Support Service again?
‘Yeah definitely. I’ve got Vicky’s number now but hopefully I won’t need to use it. I’m going to be on top of it even more than I was before. I’ve already told a few people what happened and I’ve said how Vicky helped me. I just don’t think people realise the Money Support Service is there. It’s just nice to talk to someone who knows what you’re talking about and is able to offer advice’
Final word of advice from Vicky
‘If you think it’s wrong to ask for the support, what’s the worse that can happen? I can’t promise you won’t owe the money, but we can negotiate or look at different ways to lessen the impact on your income. Or we could look at other alternatives through debt management and other agencies.’
*Name changed to protect identity