By Betty Berry, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011
Q: I just received a letter from Social Security telling me I have been overpaid and must repay. I don’t understand how this could have happened and don’t think I have been overpaid. I don’t know how to handle this problem. Can you help?
A: Overpayment can occur in either the Social Security or Supplemental Security Income program and may be caused by a number of situations.
There could have been a miscalculation in determining the benefit amount, or a duplicate check may have been issued. In other cases, resources, income or earnings may be higher than the allowable limits, or living arrangements may have changed.
If you receive a notice from the Social Security Administration saying you have been overpaid and must pay back the money or it will be withheld from future checks, you have the right to appeal. You can, depending on the situation, ask for a reconsideration or a waiver of the overpayment.
If you agree you were overpaid and the amount is correct but you cannot afford to repay it, you should request a waiver.
You should file a Request for Waiver and Recovery Questionnaire if you were not at fault in causing the overpayment and it would create a serious hardship to repay the money, or if you think it would be unfair to ask you to repay it.
“Without fault” means you were not aware you were being overpaid and are not to blame. It doesn’t matter if Social Security was at fault — you just have to show you were not.
After reading the letter, if you believe Social Security made a mistake in deciding you were overpaid or in the amount, you have the right to file a Request for Reconsideration form.
Because of Social Security procedures, unless you take action within the time frame stipulated in the letter, you may be unable to appeal. All deadlines in the letter are from the date you get the notice.
Deadlines can be extended if you can show good cause for a late appeal. This can include difficulty reading a notice due to blindness, a language barrier, an illness, a hospitalization or a serious emergency.
If you file the proper response within the time allotted, the recovery of the repayment will be delayed or suspended until a decision is made.
There are several levels of appeal. At the first level, you can request a case review, an informal conference or a formal conference. If you still get an adverse decision, you have the right to ask for a hearing conference. If you receive another adverse decision, you have the right to ask for a hearing.
If your final appeal fails, you can repay the overpayment in a lump sum or have it deducted from Social Security checks. If you opt to have it deducted, you can spread the payments over up to 36 months.
To help avoid an overpayment, you should make yourself aware of restrictions on your benefit situation and make sure you inform Social Security of any changes that might affect your eligibility.
Today, 1:30-3 p.m.: “Are You Prepared to Be a Caregiver?” seminar, Westlake Village Civic Center, 31200 E. Oak Crest Drive.
Sept. 24., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.: “Health, Wellness & Fitness in the 21st Century” trade show and exposition, Ventura County Fairgrounds. Call 988-5140 or 389-0997.