If you’ve been refused a benefit or tax credit, or your money’s been stopped or reduced and you think it’s unfair, you can challenge the decision. Here's what you need to do.
How to challenge a benefits decision
If you apply for a new benefit or tax credit, or there’s a change in your claim, you should get a decision letter. Keep it safe. It will tell you who you need to contact to challenge the decision, and what options you have.
Lost the letter?
Most benefits are paid by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), but Housing and Council Tax Support are paid by local authorities (councils), and Tax Credits are paid by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). You can find out who you need to contact from the Turn2us website.
You have one month from the date on the decision letter to ask for the decision to be reconsidered (30 days for tax credits), so respond as soon as you can, and remember to:
1) Ask for an explanation If it’s not clear from the letter why your benefit’s been stopped or changed, we recommend contacting the office that sent you the letter and asking them for an explanation – this will help your case. With a Tax Credits decision, it is better to ring the HMRC for an explanation, as it may take a while for them to respond to a letter, and you could miss the deadline to challenge the decision. If you telephone the benefit or tax credit office, make a note of the date and time you called, who you spoke to, and what was said.
2) Ask for a reconsideration Before you can appeal a different member of staff will look over the evidence and ‘reconsider’ the decision. They might ask you for more evidence, which you should provide as soon as possible. You can’t appeal a DWP benefits decision until it’s been reconsidered. This is called a mandatory reconsideration.
With some benefits decisions, such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP), you could lose your benefit or have it reduced at this point, so it’s worth getting advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).
The reconsideration is likely to have one of two outcomes: either the benefits office decides that the original decision stays the same, or they’ll decide that the original decision should be changed (they might not change it in your favour, though!) Whatever the outcome, if you’re still unhappy, you can appeal. You have one month from the date of the reconsideration decision to appeal to the Tribunal Service.
For Housing Benefit you can jump the Mandatory Reconsideration stage and go straight for an appeal within one month of the decision.
I didn’t apply for reconsideration within a month
You can still apply for a reconsideration, but you’ll need to have a good explanation as to why you didn’t apply earlier, otherwise they might not accept your request. You can find out more about applying after the deadline on the Citizens Advice website.
Can I appeal?
This depends on the decision and type of benefit – your decision letter has this information. An independent tribunal that’s separate from the office that made the original decision sees appeals. They can’t change the rules of the benefits system, but they can look at whether they’ve been applied correctly.
Getting advice if you’re going to appeal
Putting together a good appeal can require a lot of knowledge about benefits law. So to give yourself the best chance of success, get benefits advice from your local CAB or advice centre.
What does appealing involve?
First, you’ll need to find and fill in the correct form.
You can decide whether to have a paper hearing (where you send your evidence by post and don’t turn up), or an oral hearing (where you go to a tribunal who ask you questions).
Usually your chances are higher if you choose an oral hearing. You should approach your local CAB or advice centre for advice and assistance on your appeal and to see if they can find someone to go along with you to represent you.
With a paper hearing, the tribunal will consider the appeal without you there, so you should send them as much information and evidence as possible. You’ll get the result by letter.
Whatever hearing you choose it’s wise to get help from the CAB before you proceed.
Is there any point in appealing?
Appeals can take a long time and involve a lot of work and frustration. If there’s a good chance you’ll win, then this might well be worth it. But before embarking on a long process, it’s worth getting some advice about your chances.
My appeal was rejected. What next?
If you disagree with the decision of the first tribunal you can go to an ‘Upper Tribunal’. They can only rule on cases where benefits law hasn’t been followed correctly, and not on the facts of your case.
As the Upper Tribunal is based on benefits law you’ll need to take legal advice for this step to give yourself a decent chance of winning. Again, a local advice centre should be able to help.
My appeal was rejected again and I’m really frustrated – what should I do?
Lots of people find the benefits system unfair and frustrating. You don’t have to lie back and take it though.
If you’ve received a bad service from the Government department, you can make a complaint. A complaint won’t get the decision changed, but you may get a written explanation of why the problem happened, a commitment to put it right, or they might change the procedure so it’s better for future claimants.
You can contact your local MP, and ask them to send your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
Will I get paid benefits while I’m appealing?
For most DWP benefits, you won’t get paid anything during the reconsideration or appeal of a decision on a new claim. If you’re challenging a decision to reduce your benefit, you’ll get paid the lower rate until a new decision has been made.
With ESA, the situation is different. Find out more here.
Is there anything else I can claim to keep me going?
If your JSA, ESA or Universal Credit has been sanctioned, then you may be able to claim a hardship payment while the decision is being reconsidered or appealed.
It’s also worth making sure that you’re getting all the other benefits that you’re entitled to. This benefits calculator will give you a rough guide, and you can contact the CAB for a more comprehensive benefits check.
You may also be able to apply for emergency funds from the government or local council and find short-term support, such as food banks, in your area.
Where can I get more information?
Getting benefits is often a frustrating process. But there are lots of places you can go for help:
- Citizen’s Advice knows all about the benefits system and can help you understand your rights. You can visit your local bureau to get face-to-face advice and support. You must remember to bring along details of your benefits and general financial situation.
- Turn2us also has lots more information about challenging a benefits decision.
Unfortunately we are unable to offer benefits advice at The Mix, but we can give emotional support and guide you to the best places for expert advice if you give us a call on 0808 808 4994
By Danny Sherwood and David Samson
Updated on 23-Aug-2017
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