Challenging a benefit decision
If you're not happy with the decision made about the income-related benefit that you've claimed, you must first ask for the decision to be looked at again (this is known as "mandatory reconsideration"). If you're unhappy about the way your claim has been dealt with, you can also make a complaint.
If you want more information about the reasons behind the decision, you need to ask for a "written statement of reasons" within one month of being sent the decision. If you're sent written reasons within that month, you have an extra 14 days in which to ask for the decision to be reconsidered.
In some cases, you may be able to get the decision looked at again even if the one-month deadline has expired.
When your application for reconsideration has been decided, you will be sent a "mandatory reconsideration notice". This will explain about your right of appeal, should you still disagree with the decision.
Gathering evidence to challenge an income-related benefit decision
Before applying for a mandatory reconsideration, you should read the decision notice carefully. Look at the reasons behind the decision, as this will help you decide what kind of evidence might be available to support your case.
If you've been refused a benefit because it's thought that you have savings above the capital limit, you could use copies of your bank statements as evidence.
Your income amount can be clarified by providing copies of your employment contract or pay slips, or a letter from your employer.
In challenging a benefit claim decision, you may need advice on how best to do this. An advice worker may be able to:
- give you information about the rules for the benefit you're claiming
- advise you on tactics, deadlines and what evidence would be useful when challenging a benefit decision
You may be able to argue your case based on common sense.
However, there are sometimes complex legal reasons for your benefit being refused or being paid at a rate lower than you expected. It's particularly important to get help if:
- you don't fully understand the decision
- you don't know how to argue against the reasons given for the decision
You may be able to get advice from:
- your local Citizens Advice Bureau
- a local law centre
- a local authority welfare rights service - contact your local authority to see if there's a welfare rights service in your area
- a firm of solicitors that specialises in welfare benefits
- a voluntary organisation, such as a carers centre
- your trade union, if you belong to one
After you've applied for a mandatory reconsideration, you may be contacted by the Department for Work and Pensions to discuss the reasons for the dispute. This is your opportunity to find out more about why the decision was made, to clarify the evidence already provided and to tell them that you can provide more evidence if that is the case.
Appealing a benefit decision
The "mandatory reconsideration notice" will tell you how to appeal. Importantly, it will tell you that your appeal must be made directly to HM Courts and Tribunals Service and that you must also include a copy of your mandatory reconsideration notice.
The Tribunals Service will send you an enquiry form, which asks whether you want an oral hearing or a paper hearing (where you don't attend). You must return the enquiry form within 14 days. The appeal may not go ahead if the form is not returned in time.
Before the hearing, you will be sent an explanation for the decision (known as a response), and this will also be sent to Tribunals Service.
In a paper hearing, the tribunal looks at all of the information in the case papers and makes a decision based on that information. In an oral hearing, you appear in person and explain why you think the decision on the benefit you've claimed is wrong. The tribunal will ask you questions about the facts in your case.
You stand a better chance of success if you go to an oral hearing. This is because most of us are better at explaining things by talking to other people than by putting things in writing. The tribunal will also be able to ask questions and may raise points that you didn't know were relevant.
The rules of the tribunal procedure aren't very strict. The chairman or woman of the tribunal decides who speaks and when, but the chair must make sure that you get a fair chance to state your case.
It helps to be prepared. Before the hearing, make notes of what you want to say. Lay out the main points you want to raise to explain why you think the decision is wrong. Be clear about what you think the correct decision should be, and set out what other evidence you may have that can support your case
The decision is usually made on the same day, and you will be given a short notice informing you of the tribunal's decision.
If you believe there's been an official error, you can ask for a decision to be reconsidered at any time.
Complaints about income-related benefits claims
If you're unhappy about the way your benefit claim has been processed, or the way you were personally treated, you can make a complaint. If your complaint is about the service from the DWP:
- Contact the person who dealt with your claim, or that person's manager. There's no need to wait until a decision on the claim has been made.
- If you're not satisfied, you could ask for the details of the district manager of that benefit office, and contact them with your complaint.
- If you're still not satisfied, you could contact the chief executive of the DWP. The district manager will give you the contact details.
- If you're still not happy, you could ask the independent case examiner to look at your complaint. This can be done particularly if the complaint involves failure to follow proper procedures, excessive delay or poor customer service.
Contact the independent case examiner no later than six months after the final response received from the DWP. The independent case examiner can be reached on 0345 606 0777.
At any stage, you can ask your MP to take up the complaint on your behalf. Your MP may agree to refer the matter to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
'Overpayments' of income-related benefits
People are sometimes paid more benefit than they're entitled to. An overpayment of benefit may be caused by an administrative error.
An overpayment of benefit might also be caused by you making a mistake or contributing towards an error being made. For instance, you might fail to disclose important details, or you might have misrepresented an important fact. Sometimes, you will be asked to pay overpaid benefits back.
Even if you didn't deliberately mislead, an investigation may still examine whether you contributed to the error that caused the overpayment. You may want to get professional advice if this happens.
The official online source of government information on benefits is GOV.UK.
Article provided by NHS Choices
Last updated: 14/08/2018