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How To Challenge a Decision:

Important new rules

You have the right to challenge most DWP, HMRC and Local Authority benefit decisions, and we recommend getting advice on the correct way to appeal.

If you are unhappy about the way you have been treated by the benefit paying authority, you can make a COMPLAINT.

The rules changed in October 2013 for the main Dept of Works & Pension (DWP) social security benefits. At present, the 'old' system applies for those wanting to appeal a Tax Credit, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Reduction/Support decision - OTHER BENEFITS.

The following gives you a brief guide to challenging an unfavourable decision for the main DWP benefits:


FIRST STAGE: Mandatory Reconsiderations

Claimants no longer have the right to go to an independent tribunal at the first stage of challenging certain key Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) benefits.

You must first ask for a mandatory reconsideration – an internal review. This must be made within 1 calendar month of the date on the decision letter - not the date you got the letter.

You can request a Reconsideration by telephone call or letter.

The DWP will then review their decision. There is no timescale to how long they can take to make a new decision. It is possible to offer new evidence at this point, and the DWP may encourage this.

However, we would advise caution if the benefit in dispute is a vital income benefit, such as Employment & Support Allowance (ESA). This is because this will increase the time it takes to make a new decision, and if it is ESA, you will be without any benefit during this time.

Only once the review reaches the second stage can any ESA begin to be paid.

If you rely on benefits we strongly advise that you seek advice on money & budgeting issues from your local Citizens Advice Bureau at this stage.

Following the mandatory reconsideration the DWP will then issue a new decision - called a Mandatory Reconsideration Notice which that can be appealed against (see direct lodgements) below.

This new decision should include an additional copy of the Reconsideration Notice and details of the next stage of the appeal process.


SECOND STAGE: Direct Lodgements

If you are still unhappy with the new DWP decision you can make an appeal proper. It may be that you have been totally refused benefit again, or you are not happy with the level of benefit awarded.

This stage of appeal must be made within 1 calendar month of the date on the later reconsideration Notice letter - not the date you got the letter.

It must also be made direct to the Tribunal Service – called a direct lodgement – and it must enclose a copy of the decision Notice letter with it. There is a standard appeal form called a SSCS1, which can be downloaded via www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/forms/tribunals/sscs/sscs1.pdf.

You can complete this form online, then download it to post.

NOTE: The Mandatory Reconsideration system is new and having 'teething problems'.
Some people are finding that they get a letter that seems to be a Reconsideration decision, but it then refers to a different and separate Reconsideration Notice. As a copy of this must be added to the appeal request, if this is not sent to you within a couple of days of the first letter, contact the DWP and ask how you can appeal, or get advice from your local advice agency such as the Citizens Advice Bureau.


OTHER BENEFITS: CHALLENGING DECISIONS


TAX CREDITS

If you are unhappy with a HMRC decision you can ask for a reconsideration.  You must make that request within 30 days of the HMRC decision. You can either write a letter, with full details, or use the HMRC WTC/AP appeal form, available from http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/taxcredits/things-go-wrong/complaints-appeals/appealing.htm .

If you are still unhappy you can then appeal direct to the Tribunal Service within 30 days of the latest decision using the SSCS1 form, which can be downloaded via www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/forms/tribunals/sscs/sscs1.pdf .

Please note that HMRC standard practice is to contact you by phone to settle with you if you submit an appeal. You can continue with the appeal if you do not wish to negotiate in this way.


HOUSING BENEFIT (HB)

Those are unhappy with a HB decision, can ask the Council to look at it again, or apply straight to an independent appeal.

If you ask the Council to look at it again it must be requested within 1 calendar month of the decision. They will issue a new decision which, if you are still unhappy with, can be appealed to an independent tribunal, within 1 month of the later decision.

If appealing to an independent tribunal (either at the first stage, or after the Council has looked at it again), the appeal must be made using the appeal "the form approved by your Local Authority" -  check the Council's website for guidance on this; it might simply be a letter (as long as you give all the relevant details: name, address, contact telephone number, date of the decision, the name of the benefit being appealed and the grounds for appeal).


COUNCIL TAX REDUCTIONS/SUPPORT

This information relates to Council Tax Reduction decisions. It used to be called Council Tax Benefit, and is now called Council Tax Reductions, or Support.

Those unhappy with a Council Tax Reduction decision should first contact the Council, explaining why they disagree with the decision.

The Council should respond within 2 months.

If you are still unhappy with their response you must appeal to a Valuation Tribunal (VT) within 2 months of the date of the latest decision. If the Council doesn't respond to your first contact within 2 months you can appeal direct to the Valuation Tribunal, as long as it is within 4 months of your original request.

Appeal forms can be downloaded from the VT website: www.valuationtribunal.gov.uk/CTReduction/Forms.aspx .


LATE APPEALS

Appeals outside the 1 month/30 day time limit are possible in limited circumstances - get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.