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Challenging a benefit decision

If the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (England, Wales & Scotland) or the Department for Communities (DfC) (Northern Ireland) make a decision about your benefits that you do not agree with you can challenge this decision.


This information applies to people living in England, Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland.


This information gives a ten step guide to challenging a benefit decision.

Note: This information only applies to DWP/DfC administered benefits (which include Carer’s Allowance, Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseekers Allowance, Pension Credit, Universal Credit, State Pension, Bereavement Benefits and Maternity Allowance). For information on challenging any other benefit decisions contact the Carers UK Adviceline.


Ten step guide to challenging a benefit decision

Carers UK has put together a ten step guide to challenging a benefit decision. You can read through the steps in order, or click on any of the steps to the right to be taken directly to that information.


Step one: decision letter

You receive your decision letter and decide that you want it reconsidered

You have one month* from the date you were sent your decision letter to ask the DWP/DfC to reconsider their decision.

This is called a mandatory reconsideration. You can ask the DWP/DfC for a ‘statement of reasons’ for their decision (if this was not included in the decision letter) but they must receive your request within one month of the date you were sent your decision letter. This extends your time limit for requesting a mandatory reconsideration to one month and fourteen days from the date you were sent your original decision letter. Alternatively, if the date on the written statement of reasons is more than one month later than the date on the original decision letter, then your time limit is extended to fourteen days after the date on the written statement of reasons.

*Note: If this time limit has elapsed due to special circumstances, then contact the Carers UK Adviceline as soon as possible. There may still be the chance to ask for a mandatory reconsideration.

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Step two: contact the DWP/DfC

You contact the DWP/DfC and ask them to reconsider your benefit decision

Their contact details should be on your decision letter. We recommend that you ask for the reconsideration in writing. Keep a copy of the letter and of all paperwork that you send. If possible send it recorded delivery, as this way you can show that the request was received within the strict one month time limit if you need to. If the cost of sending it recorded delivery is too much then you should at least get proof of postage, which is free.

You should include in your letter:

  • your full name, address and national insurance number
  • the date of the decision and a summary of the decision
  • a focused explanation of why you think the decision is wrong – if you are asking for a reconsideration of a benefit which is to do with your health (such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Attendance Allowance, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or in some cases Universal Credit), then try and show how you meet the assessment criteria of the benefit
  • if you are asking for a reconsideration of a benefit that involved a medical assessment - request to be sent the medical assessment report. – you will need to check to see if you feel this contains inconsistencies or errors that you can challenge
  • any evidence that backs up your claim that you meet the criteria of the benefit – for example, supporting evidence could be: a diary that you have kept over a week or so which sets out the issues you face in regard to your health and disability; a care and support plan from social services; a statement of educational needs; a letter from your consultant, GP, occupational therapist or social worker, outlining how your condition affects you in terms of meeting the criteria of the benefit - unfortunately some GPs may charge for this service, so if you are living on a low income then make this clear to them as it may increase the chances of any fee being waived - evidence can also include a written statement from someone that knows you well, such as a family member or friend, and who knows how you are impacted day to day by your disability or illness

Do not risk missing the strict one month time limit because you are waiting on supporting evidence: it can be submitted at a later date.

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Step three: decision reconsidered

A decision maker from the DWP/DfC will reconsider the decision

In England, Wales & Scotland the DWP should acknowledge your request for reconsideration in writing. At this stage, the decision maker from the DWP may phone you to ask questions about your claim and the decision. It might be helpful for you to have a copy of your letter and other paperwork to hand so you can clearly explain why you think the decision is wrong. If you have any more evidence to submit then let them know during the call and they should tell you where to send it. If the decision maker does not receive the supporting evidence within one month of the phone call, then they will reconsider the decision without it.

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Step four: the decision

The decision maker will write to you to let you know what they have decided

There is no time limit on how long the DWP/DfC can take to reconsider the decision, and once that process is complete you will be sent two copies of a ‘Mandatory Reconsideration Notice’. This contains the reconsidered decision. Keep both copies safe, as you will need them if you decide to appeal later down the line.

If the DWP/DfC have changed their minds in your favour as a result of your request, they will ‘back-date’ the benefits you should have got to the date of the original decision.

If you disagree with the reconsidered decision, then you can appeal to the Tribunal Service (England, Wales & Scotland) or the Appeals Service (TAS) (Northern Ireland): see steps five to ten below.

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Step five: decide to appeal

You have received the DWP’s/DfC's reconsidered decision, disagree with it and want to appeal it

You have one month* to submit your appeal to the independent Tribunal Service/Appeals Service (TAS) from the date on the mandatory reconsideration notice letter sent to you by the DWP/DfC. The Tribunal is not part of the DWP/DfC and is independent of government.

You can ask for a ‘statement of reasons’ for their decision (if this was not included in the letter) (as in step one) but they must receive it within the one month time limit. This extends your time limit for lodging an appeal to one month and fourteen days from your original reconsidered decision letter. Alternatively, if the date on the written statement of reasons is more than one month later than the date on the reconsidered decision letter, then your time limit is extended to fourteen days after the date on the written statement of reasons.

*Note: If this time limit has elapsed due to special circumstances, then contact the Carers UK Adviceline as soon as possible. There may still be the chance to appeal.

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Step six: lodge your appeal

In England, Wales & Scotland you lodge your appeal directly with the Tribunal Service. In Northern Ireland you lodge your appeal directly with the Appeals Service (TAS).

While this can be done in writing, there is a special form you can fill in which is called the SSC1 in England, Wales & Scotland (available here) or the NOA1(SS) in Northern Ireland (available here), which contains all the information needed to proceed with your appeal. Once you have filled in the form, attach a copy of your ‘Mandatory Reconsideration Notice’ together with any further supporting evidence and send it in to the relevant address:

For cases in England and Wales:

HMCTS
SSCS Appeals Centre
PO Box 1203
Bradford
BD1 9WP

For cases in Scotland:

HMCTS
SSCS Appeals Centre
PO Box 27080
Glasgow
G2 9HQ

For cases in Northern Ireland:

The Appeals Service
9th Floor Millennium House
17 Great Victoria Street
Belfast
BT2 7AQ

In England, Wales & Scotland on the SSC1 form, you will have the option of choosing a paper hearing or a face-to-face hearing. In Northern Ireland TAS will normally issue a form to ask if you want a paper hearing or a face-to-face hearing. Face-to-face hearings are referred to as oral hearings and require you to attend in person. Around 50% of oral hearings are successful while less than 20% of paper hearings succeed. This is because with an oral hearing you are able to submit your appeal paperwork and supporting evidence  as above in advance and are also  able to put your case forward in person.

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Step seven: confirmation from DWP/DfC

You have submitted your appeal to the Tribunal Service/the Appeals Service (TAS).

In England, Wales & Scotland the DWP will aim to respond to you within twenty eight days of the Tribunal Service telling them that you have submitted an appeal. You should receive confirmation of this in the post. In Northern Ireland there is no equivalent time limit but when the DfC's appeal response is ready it should be sent to you in the post.

If you have asked for an oral hearing, then you should also receive a notice of your hearing date. They must tell you at least fourteen days in advance of the hearing.

You may be able to claim expenses to help you attend an oral appeal hearing. Expenses might include:

  • Public transport
  • Travel by taxi if you cannot use public transport
  • Meals
  • Child minding
  • Lost earnings
  • Expenses for a companion if you need one
  • Expenses of a witness

Payment of expenses is discretionary but the Tribunal Service/TAS aim to be helpful. You should contact the Tribunal Service/TAS in advance to speak with them about claiming expenses.

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Step eight: preparing for appeal

You prepare for the appeal

Due to cuts in funding from the government, you may find it hard to get assistance with preparing your appeal. However, there are a number of things you may wish to do in advance of your hearing date, including:

  •  Write a submission – The submission helps focus the tribunal on the argument you want to make, and is a way of setting out on paper your reasons why you believe the reconsidered decision was wrong. You don’t have to follow any particular format, but it helps to go through your reasons point by point.
    If you are appealing a decision for a benefit which is to do with your health (such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Attendance Allowance, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or in some cases Universal Credit), try to show how you meet the criteria of the benefit. You can also set out your arguments if you feel that a medical assessment was incorrect or misleading. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau or other benefits advice agency may be able to help you with this.
  • Get supporting evidence – If you have any further supporting evidence (see step two for types of evidence), send it in. You can submit supporting evidence at any point up until and including the day of the hearing (although, if you submit evidence on the day then this may cause delays, as the panel will need to consider it before proceeding with the hearing). Please keep copies of all paperwork that you submit and get proof of postage.
  •  Make arrangements for the hearing – If you have communication needs (e.g. you need an interpreter), then tell the Tribunal Service/the Appeals Service (TAS) in advance, as they will need to make arrangements. Whilst you can arrange to take a friend or family member along for support, they will not be allowed to interpret for you or speak for you. The Tribunal will want to hear from you your thoughts on why you feel the DWP/DfC is wrong.
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Step nine: attending your appeal

You attend your appeal

The tribunal will send you a letter telling you where and when your hearing will take place. Report to reception when you get to the venue so they know you have arrived.

Before the day of the hearing you will be sent a full copy of all the letters and paperwork that has gone back and forth between you and the DWP/DfC since you first made the claim. This will also contain your claim form, any medical assessment reports and details of any telephone correspondence.

The Tribunal Service/the Appeals Service (TAS) will also receive a full copy of all this paperwork. You should take this with you on the day in case you wish to refer to it. 

Government financial assistance to fund a representative to support you at the tribunal hearing ceased in 2013, therefore you may struggle to find representation for the hearing. Some advice or law centres can help you prepare your submission and some can still attend the hearing with you. It is worth checking out the agencies in your area.

If you cannot find representation for the hearing, then you should try not to worry, as the Tribunal Service/TAS has been designed to accommodate this and they do not expect you to be legally trained or have knowledge of the law relating to your benefit. However it can help to be well prepared and comfortable about what to expect on the day.

The hearing will last around thirty to forty minutes. It will be conducted in plain English and will based on the facts of your claim.

The DLA, PIP and Attendance Allowance appeal panel will consist of a judge, a doctor and a ‘disability member’ (eg social worker, nurse, occupational therapist). ESA appeals will be in front of a judge and a doctor.

Members of the panel will ask questions to try and understand your condition. Make sure you take your time to answer the questions fully and give practical examples of how you meet the benefit criteria. You may also wish to bring along a friend or family member for emotional support. With the permission of the Judge they may be able to prompt you if you forget to mention things.

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Step ten: the tribunal's decision

The tribunal will let you know what they have decided

Usually, the tribunal will come to a decision on the day, but if not they will send out their decision by first class post.

In the event your appeal is successful, the DWP/DfC decision will be changed in your favour. It normally takes between four and six weeks for the DWP/DfC to pay you the amount of benefit that you have missed out on so far. You may wish to send a copy of the appeal decision letter straight to the relevant DWP/DfC office to speed up the process.

If you disagree with the tribunal decision, you can ask for a written statement of reasons to see how they reached their decision. If you intend to challenge this, you should seek specialist benefit advice as soon as possible. You first need permission from the Tribunal Service/the Appeals Service (TAS) to appeal, and you can only challenge their decision if you believe they have made an "error in law". If you are granted the right of appeal you have one month in which to submit your challenge. Whilst it is hard to appeal a tribunal decision, it may be possible to get financial help from the government to fund legal advice.

For more information about this, you can call Civil Legal Advice on 0845 345 4 345.

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