Most decisions in relation to claims for social security benefits or tax credits can be challenged, if the person is unhappy with the decision. A decision can be changed in different ways:
- By asking DWP, HMRC or the local authority to look at the decision again (this is known as “revision” or “reconsideration“)
- By asking for the original decision to be superseded. This is known as “supersession“, and if successful the new decision will usually only apply from the point the request was made. A decision may be superseded to reflect a change of circumstances since the original decision, or in certain other situations including where a revision/reconsideration is not possible (e.g. because the time limit has passed)
- By appealing to an independent Tribunal
It used to be possible for a claimant dissatisfied with a benefits decision to appeal directly to a Tribunal without first seeking a revision/reconsideration. However, following the Welfare Reform Act 2012, individuals seeking to challenge a benefits decision must ask for DWP or HMRC to reconsider their decision before they can appeal. This rule – known as “Mandatory Reconsideration” – was introduced in April 2013 and now applies to all social security benefit (except Housing Benefit) and tax credit decisions.
A person who disagrees with a benefits decision can request a Mandatory Reconsideration in writing, in person or by telephone (although if the request was made in person or by telephone, it is advisable to confirm this in writing afterwards and keep a copy for reference). For Universal Credit decisions, claimants can also request a Mandatory Reconsideration via their online account. In all cases, when applying the person needs to make it clear that they are requesting a Mandatory Reconsideration.
The request must be made within the “dispute period.” There are time limits and a delay can mean that a challenge may not be possible.
A person can ask for a reconsideration within one calendar month of being notified of the decision (or within 30 days for HMRC decisions). However, if the person was not given a written “statement of reasons” with the decision, they can ask for one and the time limit is then extended by 14 days. If the statement is provided more than one month after the original decision, the person has a further 14 days in which to ask for a reconsideration. An application for a reconsideration can only be accepted outside these time limits in certain limited circumstances.
When the DWP or HMRC has looked at the decision again, the person will be sent a Mandatory Reconsideration Notice setting out their decision. There is no time limit for DWP or HMRC to issue decisions on Mandatory Reconsiderations.
Appealing to a Tribunal
If the Mandatory Reconsideration Notice confirms the original decision, the person can then appeal to an independent First-Tier Tribunal. The appeal must be lodged directly with HM Courts and Tribunals Service. This is referred to as “direct lodgement.” An appeal will not be accepted unless a Mandatory Reconsideration Notice has been issued.
As with mandatory reconsiderations, there are time limits within which appeals must be lodged. The standard time limit for appealing is one month, although late appeals may be accepted in certain circumstances.
A DWP note from August 2013 sets out the different stages in the “appeals journey”, starting from receipt of the original decision notice, through the Mandatory Reconsideration process and on to an appeal to a First-tier Tribunal.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service booklet How to Appeal Against a Decision Made by the Department for Work and Pensions (SSCS1A) also sets out what happens at each stage of the appeals process, and what people can expect.
The Tribunal’s decision
Where a person has appealed to a First-Tier Tribunal and disagrees with the Tribunal’s decision, there are various possibilities. If the Tribunal’s decision contains a clerical error or accidental slip (e.g. a spelling mistake), it can be corrected by the Tribunal itself. A Tribunal’s decision can also be “set aside” on procedural grounds, e.g. where relevant documents were not received by one of the parties, or some other procedural irregularity. In this situation the Tribunal’s decision is cancelled, and the appeal is heard again.
Claimants who are unhappy with a First-tier Tribunal’s decision can appeal to the Upper Tribunal, but only if the First-tier Tribunal made an error of law. The fact that a person disagrees with a Tribunal’s decision is not sufficient grounds in itself for an appeal to be heard by the Upper Tribunal. Those dissatisfied with a decision of the Upper Tribunal may be able to appeal further to the Court of Appeal (or the Court of Session in Scotland).
Information and guidance
There are a number of useful sources of information on challenging benefits decisions. In addition to the online sources listed on this page, detailed information on reconsiderations and appeals is also given in the Child Poverty Action Group’s annual Welfare benefits and tax credits handbook and the Disability Alliance’s annual Disability Rights Handbook.
Anyone seeking to challenge a benefits situation should seek specialist advice. Many solicitors will not be familiar with social security law, so the best first port of call is probably a CAB, Law Centre or other local welfare rights organisation. They may be able to represent the claimant at the Tribunal.
Advicelocal can help locate local organisations providing help and support in relation to welfare benefits and tax credits. By entering a postcode an choosing an advice topic, you can find tailored information for your area, including key local authority resources and details of local independent advice organisations.
- GOV.UK: Challenge a benefit decision
- HM Courts and Tribunals Service: How to appeal a decision by DWP
- Citizens Advice: Challenging a benefits decision
- Citizens Advice: Challenging a Universal Credit decision
- Disability Rights UK: Appeals and Mandatory Reconsideration
- Advicelocal postcode tool