§ 404.509. Against equity and good conscience; defined.

(a) Recovery of an overpayment is against equity and good conscience (under title II and title XVIII) if an individual—

(1) Changed his or her position for the worse (Example 1) or relinquished a valuable right (Example 2) because of reliance upon a notice that a payment would be made or because of the overpayment itself; or

(2) Was living in a separate household from the overpaid person at the time of the overpayment and did not receive the overpayment (Examples 3 and 4).

(b) The individual's financial circumstances are not material to a finding of against equity and good conscience.

Example 1.  A widow, having been awarded benefits for herself and daughter, entered her daughter in private school because the monthly benefits made this possible. After the widow and her daughter received payments for almost a year, the deceased worker was found to be not insured and all payments to the widow and child were incorrect. The widow has no other funds with which to pay the daughter's private school expenses. Having entered the daughter in private school and thus incurred a financial obligation toward which the benefits had been applied, she was in a worse position financially than if she and her daughter had never been entitled to benefits. In this situation, the recovery of the payments would be against equity and good conscience.

Example 2.  After being awarded old-age insurance benefits, an individual resigned from employment on the assumption he would receive regular monthly benefit payments. It was discovered 3 years later that (due to a Social Security Administration error) his award was erroneous because he did not have the required insured status. Due to his age, the individual was unable to get his job back and could not get any other employment. In this situation, recovery of the overpayments would be against equity and good conscience because the individual gave up a valuable right.

Example 3.  M divorced K and married L. M died a few years later. When K files for benefits as a surviving divorced wife, she learns that L had been overpaid $3,200 on M's earnings record. Because K and L are both entitled to benefits on M's record of earnings and we could not recover the overpayment from L, we sought recovery from K. K was living in a separate household from L at the time of the overpayment and did not receive the overpayment. K requests waiver of recovery of the $3,200 overpayment from benefits due her as a surviving divorced wife of M. In this situation, it would be against equity and good conscience to recover the overpayment from K.

Example 4.  G filed for and was awarded benefits. His daughter, T, also filed for student benefits on G's earnings record. Since T was an independent, full-time student living in another State, she filed for benefits on her own behalf. Later, after T received 12 monthly benefits, the school reported that T had been a full-time student only 2 months and had withdrawn from school. Since T was overpaid 10 monthly benefits, she was requested to return the overpayment to SSA. T did not return the overpayment and further attempts to collect the overpayment were unsuccessful. G was asked to repay the overpayment because he was receiving benefits on the same earnings record. G requested waiver. To support his waiver request G established that he was not at fault in causing the overpayment because he did not know that T was receiving benefits. Since G is without fault and, in addition, meets the requirements of not living in the same household at the time of the overpayment and did not receive the overpayment, it would be against equity and good conscience to recover the overpayment from G.

[53 FR 25483, July 7, 1988]