What can I do?
If you are unhappy with the way you have been treated or with the outcome of a decision related to benefits, there are ways to challenge this. We can help guide you through the steps to take if you want to take the matter further.
To make this easier, we’ve put together a 10-step guide:
On receiving the decision, you may not be satisfied and decide you want it reconsidered.
You will have one month* from the date you were sent your decision letter to ask the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or Department for Communities (DFC) (in Northern Ireland) to reconsider their decision.
In England, Wales or Scotland, you will need to contact the relevant office that made the decision at DWP. For example, if the decision is about tax credits, see this page. (For tax credits, you must ask for a reconsideration within 30 days of the date of the decision.) You can find the details of the process to follow on this page of the Gov.uk website.
In Northern Ireland, you can contact the Jobs and Benefits office or the Benefits Office that made the decision or download and complete form MR2(NI).
When you contact the relevant benefits office, you will need to ask for 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.
The ‘statement of reasons’ will extend 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, contact the Carers UK Helpline as soon as possible on email@example.com to ask for advice, marking your email as urgent. There may still be the chance to ask for a mandatory reconsideration.
Contact the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or Department for Communities (Northern Ireland) and ask them for a mandatory reconsideration to review your benefit decision.
Their contact details should be on your decision letter. We recommend that you ask for the mandatory reconsideration in writing.
Keep a copy of the letter and of all paperwork that you send. If possible, send it by 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 this way is too much then you should at least get proof of postage, which is free.
You should include the following 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’ve been refused a benefit that is to do with your health, try and show how you (or the person you care for) met the assessment criteria of the benefit on the date that the decision was made.
- If you are asking for a reconsideration of a benefit that involved a medical assessment – request to be sent the medical assessment report. Then check to see if 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 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 and meets the criteria of the benefit.
(Some GPs may charge for this service, so if you are living on a low income, make this clear to them as it may increase the chances of any fee being waived. Try to help your GP as much as possible by providing the documentation.)
- Evidence could also include a written statement from someone who knows you well, such as a family member or friend who knows how you are impacted day to day by your disability or illness.
Be careful not to miss the strict one-month time limit because you are waiting on supporting evidence. You can make sure this is submitted at a later date and reference this in your letter.
A decision maker from the DWP/DfC will reconsider the decision
In England, Wales and 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 may reconsider the decision without it.
In Northern Ireland
After sending your reconsideration request in writing, you will receive a copy of the Mandatory Reconsideration Notice. This confirmation will be sent to you by email or letter to let you know that the office that made the decision has looked at it again. You may be contacted for further information.
The decision maker will write back to you to let you know their decision after reconsideration.
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 received, to the date of the original decision.
If you disagree with the reconsidered decision, then you can consider appealing to the Tribunal Service (England, Wales and Scotland) or the Appeals Service (TAS) (Northern Ireland): see steps five to ten.
If you’re still not happy with the reconsidered decision, you may 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.
*As before, you can ask for a ‘statement of reasons’ for their decision - see step one as these timings still apply.
The Citizens Advice website has some useful pointers on how to prepare.
In England, Wales and Scotland
You can lodge your appeal directly with the Tribunal Service.
While this can be done in writing, there is a special form you can fill in called the SSC1 (available here) which provides all the information you need 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
For cases in Scotland:
HMCTS SSCS Appeals Centre
PO Box 27080
In Northern Ireland
You can lodge your appeal directly with the Appeals Service (TAS).
You need to complete a form called the NOA1(SS) (available here), which contains all the necessary information for going ahead 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 to:
The Appeals Service
9th Floor Millennium House
17 Great Victoria Street
Paper hearing or a face-to-face hearing?
You should be given the option of having a paper hearing or a face-to-face one. 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 in advance as well as put your case forward in person.
A judge may assess your case without a hearing. In some cases, they will be able to make a provisional decision based only on the documents. If this happens and you don’t agree with the provisional decision you will need to ask for a hearing instead.
This hearing may be by telephone or video conference. If a remote hearing would be difficult for you, let the tribunal service know as soon as possible. To learn more about remote hearings you can visit the government website. It is still possible to have someone support you during a hearing.
You can contact our Helpline if you have any specific queries by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You have submitted your appeal
In England, Wales and Scotland, the DWP will aim to respond to you within 28 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 14 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
- 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.
Here are some suggestions for how you could prepare in advance:
- Set out on paper your reasons why you believe the reconsidered decision was wrong, with constructive points. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau or other benefits advice agency may be able to help you with this. You could also contact your local carers centre for further support.
- 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). Keep copies of all paperwork that you submit and get proof of postage.
- Make arrangements for the hearing – If you have communication needs (eg, 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 represent you or speak for you. The Tribunal will want to hear from you your thoughts on why you feel the DWP/DfC is wrong.
For more information, visit the GOV.UK website.
What to expect on the day of the 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.
- 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 30 to 40 minutes and will based on the facts of your claim. 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.
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. If this is the case, you may wish to get advice in case any backdated payments have an impact any other benefits you may be receiving.
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.
For further information, visit the GOV.UK website.
The charity Advice Now has produced these helpful guides:
For challenging decisions about Personal Independence Payment or Attendance Allowance which has the same process:
For challenging decisions about Disability Living Allowance:
For challenging decisions about work capability assessments relating to Employment and Support Allowance or Universal Credit:
You can also listen to our guidance on how to complain effectively or watch the video delivered by Carers UK's advisers.