This guide is aimed at advisers who work with claimants who may move from tax credits to Universal Credit. It gives an overview of how tax credit debt is affected by the move to Universal Credit and what claimants may need to do.
Tax credit debts in Universal Credit
An overview of Universal Credit can be found on GOV.UK.
From 6 April 2016, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will be able to recover overpaid tax credit from claimants who have moved to Universal Credit. This will mean tax credit debt will be recovered from Universal Credit instead of tax credit payments.
The main reason claimants are overpaid tax credit is because of changes in their circumstances, a mistake on the claim form or they didn't renew their tax credit claim on time.
Currently, claimants who have been paid too much tax credit are asked to pay back any overpayments to HMRC.
Claimants can pay back any overpaid tax credit either by:
- having their future tax credit payments reduced, or
- if they don't receive tax credit any more they will be asked to pay back the money direct – this is known as 'direct recovery'.
If a claimant cannot afford to repay any tax credit debt in full, due to their financial circumstances, a 'time to pay' arrangement may be agreed with HMRC to spread their repayments.
From 6 April 2016, DWP will recover overpaid tax credit from claimants who have moved to Universal Credit. When a tax credit claimant makes a new claim for Universal Credit, for example, when they lose their job, their tax credits award is stopped.
HMRC will continue to make tax credit payments until they receive a stop notice from DWP, which is automatically sent when entitlement for Universal Credit is established.
The move to Universal Credit could create a tax credit overpayment which the claimant will have to pay back as well as any other tax credit overpayments they may have.
If a claimant has moved to Universal Credit, HMRC will write to them with a letter called 'Your tax credits overpayments' (TC1131), a copy is included in Annex A.
This will tell them that their tax credit debt will be transferred and recovered by DWP from their Universal Credit award. Different debts may be transferred at different times and therefore claimants may receive more than one TC1131.
Important – Claimants do not need to do anything once they receive this letter.
However they should note the following actions will happen:
- If the claimant has an agreement in place to pay back HMRC tax credit debt by direct debit – known as a time to pay agreement – this will automatically be stopped. This applies whether the plan is with HMRC or an independent debt collector
- Claimants who pay HMRC by standing order will need to stop any existing standing orders with their bank. (Claimants will need to check their bank statements to see if they are currently paying by standing order)
If a joint tax credit award ends due to one or both partners moving to Universal Credit, HMRC will work out if they have been overpaid.
Each person will be notified separately of their own individual tax credit debt which will usually be half of the outstanding amount of overpayment.
Those claimants who do not move to Universal Credit will be notified separately of their share of tax credits debt via a letter called a TC610 Notice to Pay, a copy is included at Annex B.
If claimants are in receipt of Universal Credit, DWP will reduce their Universal Credit payments to recover any transferred tax credit debts.
The amount of deduction depends on the category of the debts as well as other circumstances. DWP uses a priority order to pay back debt from benefits (e.g. fraud debt, advances, gas/electricity arrears).
Due to this priority order, initially, the deductions taken from the Universal Credit payment may not be allocated against tax credit debt.
Universal Credit automatically calculates the rate of deduction to be applied and this can vary from month to month as consideration is given to claimant income/earnings which can fluctuate.
If Universal Credit is no longer in payment, DWP will pursue other recovery methods, e.g. deduction from other benefits or voluntary payments. Where this is not possible then DWP will pursue via Direct Earnings Attachment or Debt Collection Agencies.
The legislation limits how much money can be deducted from benefit to recover an overpayment.
This is to ensure the recovery process does not cause claimants significant hardship. The actual amount deducted will be shown on the award notification once the Universal Credit payment has been calculated.
If claimants can't afford to pay back the debt, they want to make a one off payment, pay in full or wish to clarify how much they owe, they can visit how to make a repayment on GOV.UK.
Legislation was introduced in April 2015 to allow HMRC to transfer tax credit debts to DWP to consider recovery from a claimant's Universal Credit payments.
Universal Credit in Northern Ireland will be introduced following approval by the Westminster Parliament of the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 at the beginning of December 2015.
For further information please visit NI Direct Universal Credits.
11.1 How will customers who make a claim to Universal Credit from April 2016 be advised that their debt will transfer to DWP?
Customers will be advised via a letter called 'Your tax credits overpayments' (TC1131), a copy is included in Annex A. The letter will display the overpayment amounts and explain that HMRC is sending details of the amount customers owe to the DWP, so DWP can recover it from their Universal Credit payments, unless DWP tell them otherwise.
11.2 When will the letter called 'Your tax credits overpayments' (TC1131) be sent to the customer?
At the point the tax credits debt is transferred to DWP. This will ensure the recipient is aware of their debt position before any deductions are made to their Universal Credit payments.
11.3 When will customers who made a claim for Universal Credit before April 2016 have their tax credits debt transferred to DWP?
The transfer of these cases will also begin from April 2016 until January 2017. Customers will receive a letter called 'Your tax credits overpayments' (TC1131), a copy is included in Annex A.
11.4 Will claimants be able to make payment arrangements with DWP to pay back their tax credits debts if Universal Credit is in payment?
If claimants are in receipt of Universal Credit, deductions will be made automatically from their Universal Credit payment. This may include a percentage for tax credit debt.
The amount of deduction depends on the category of the debts as well as other circumstances (i.e. Fraud Debt, Hardship arrangements).
If Universal Credit is no longer in payment, DWP will pursue other recovery methods, e.g. deduction from other benefits, voluntary payments, Direct Earnings Attachment or Debt Collection Agencies.
11.5 Will claimants be able to negotiate with DWP to agree new deductions if Universal Credit is in payment?
This is unlikely as Universal Credit automatically calculates the rate of deduction to be applied; this can vary from month to month as consideration is given to claimant income/earnings which can fluctuate.
If the Universal Credit claim closes and there is no other benefit in payment DWP will write to the claimant and ask them to either pay the remaining balance in full, or agree a voluntary arrangement to pay by Direct Debit.
11.6 Will DWP tell Universal Credit claimants when their tax credits debts have been repaid?
No, DWP does not inform claimants of any full repayment, claimants will need to contact DWP Debt Management to check how much they owe.
11.7 What will happen if the claimant does not agree with their share of the debt showing on the letter called 'Your tax credits overpayments' (TC1131)?
The internet address on the letter TC1131 will direct claimants to specific www.gov.uk 'overpayments' web pages, which include advice on where to go if they wish to dispute or query the amount on the letter called 'Your tax credits overpayments' (TC1131).
The letter will contain a phone number in case they prefer to contact HMRC.
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