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 Benefit 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 here.
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, we recommend writing back to the office that sent you the letter and asking them for an explanation – this will help your case.
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. If you live in Great Britain, you can’t appeal a DWP benefits decision until it’s been reconsidered (in Northern Ireland you can jump this stage, although this is likely to change in the future). This is called a mandatory reconsideration.
With some benefits decisions, such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIPs), 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 you’re right and 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.
I didn’t apply for reconsideration within a month
You can still apply for a consideration, but you’ll need to have a good explanation as to why you didn’t apply earlier, otherwise they might not accept your request. Find out more about applying after the deadline here.
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 advice from your local CAB or other legal advice centre.
If you want to do it by yourself there are some really useful tips on putting together a case and representing yourself here.
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).
We strongly advise that if you choose an oral hearing you take along a representative if you can get one – hearings with a representative have a much higher success rate.
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.
Whether 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 find short-term support, such as food banks, in your area – see our article on Crisis Loans for more information.
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 volunteers know 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 here at TheSite.
Picture of girl with her fingers crossed by Shutterstock.
- The Citizens Advice Bureau has a great Advice4Me page, which explains legal rights specifically for under-25s.
- Use the Turn2Us calculator to work out what benefits and grants you're entitled to, or call their helpline on 0808 802 2000
- Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
- Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.
By Danny Sherwood
Updated on 25-Apr-2014