People who have problems with any aspect of the service they receive from the Department for Work and Pensions or an organisation providing services on its behalf can complain, whether or not a claim for benefit has been made.  The DWP’s Customer charter sets out the standards of service the public can expect from it. 

However, if the person has made a claim for benefit and they think the decision is wrong, they cannot change the decision by making a complaint.  The procedure for seeking to get a benefits decision changed is quite separate – see the separate page Challenging benefits decisions.

Standards and redress

Complaints could be about various aspects of the service received, such as:

  • Being given incorrect or misleading advice by staff
  • Delays in dealing with a claim
  • Difficulties contacting an office or call centre
  • Rudeness by staff
  • Discrimination because of race, sex, disability, religious belief or politics

But this is not an exhaustive list.

Redress might include:

  • An explanation and/or apology for what has happened
  • A promise that the problem will be addressed
  • A change in procedure so that the problem doesn’t occur again in future
  • In some cases, financial compensation

DWP has a scheme which offers “special payments” to people who have been affected by “maladministration” (this is sometimes also referred to as “official error”).  The aim is to put people back into the financial position they would have been in had the error not happened.

Making a complaint

Information on the DWP’s complaints procedure​ is available on GOV.UK.

Complaints can be made by phone, in person or in writing.  Complaints about Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit can also be made online.  The complaint should be made to the office the person has been dealing with.  Contact details should be given on DWP correspondence; see also Complaints procedure: Who to contact on GOV.UK.

If the person is not satisfied with the initial response, they can ask for their complaint to be investigated by a Complaint Resolution Manager.  This is sometimes known as a “tier one” complaint.  The Complaint Resolution Manager will normally phone the person to talk about their complaint and agree how to investigate it.  Complaints should normally be dealt with within 15 working days.

If the person still isn’t happy, they can ask for their complaint to be considered by a senior manager (a “tier two” complaint).  The person should be contacted within 15 working days to be told the outcome, or when they can expect a response, if it will take longer.​

​​Taking a complaint further ​

People who have exhausted the internal complaints procedure can take their complaint further to the Independent Case Examiner, who is not a civil servant and acts independently of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Members of Parliament can refer cases involving maladministration to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, but it will normally be expected that a person has exhausted the normal complaints procedures before any approach is made.​

Complaints about medical assessments

Assessments in relation to claims for certain benefits – including Personal Independence Payment and Employment and Support Allowance – are not undertaken by DWP staff but by health professionals employed by contracted assessment providers.

Atos Healthcare (operating as Independent Assessment Services) undertakes PIP assessments in Northern England and Scotland; and in London and Southern England. Capita Business Services Ltd undertakes PIP assessments in Wales and Central England, and (for the Department for Communities) in Northern Ireland.

Maximus (operating as the Health Assessment Advisory Service) undertakes Work Capability Assessments for ESA and assessments for other benefits (apart from PIP) throughout Great Britain under a separate contact.  Atos still undertakes WCAs in Northern Ireland.

A person seeking to challenge a decision on a claim for ESA or PIP must do so in the usual way – see the Help Hub page on Challenging benefits decisions. However, if they wish to make a complaint about the assessment – e.g. about the conduct of the health professional, the appointment arrangements, or the facilities at the assessment centre – they will need to go through the relevant assessment provider’s complaints procedure (see the links in the sidebar to this page).

If the person has exhausted the assessment provider’s complaints procedure and still isn’t happy, they can take their complaint to the Independent Case Examiner.  The Independent Case Examiner cannot look into a health professional’s clinical findings, but can consider complaints about the way an assessment was conducted, e.g. if the health professional was rude or insensitive.

If the person is not satisfied with the Independent Case Examiner’s response, their MP can refer the case to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, as outlined above. ​

Complaints about tax credits or Child Benefit

Tax Credits and Child Benefit are administered throughout the United Kingdom by HM Revenue and Customs.  The internal HMRC complaints procedure is explained in Complain about HMRC on GOV.UK.  People who are unhappy with the outcome of an internal review can ask the Adjudicator to look at their complaint.  MPs can refer cases beyond the Adjudicator to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

As with DWP benefits, if a person is seeking to overturn a decision in relation to tax credits or Child Benefit, they will need to do so separately via the Mandatory Reconsideration and appeals process.​

Northern Ireland

The Social Security benefit complaints procedure in Northern Ireland is explained in a factsheet available on NIdirect.  There is a three-stage internal complaints procedure, and if the person is still unhappy they can take their complaint to the Independent Case Examiner.  People who have exhausted all other complaints procedures can ask the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman to look at their case.

Scotland

The Scotland Act 2016 devolved significant new welfare powers to the Scottish Parliament including responsibility for disability and carers’ benefits; benefits for maternity, maternity, funeral and heating expenses; and powers to vary the housing cost element of Universal Credit and UC payment arrangements.  Social Security Scotland has been set up to deliver devolved benefits, but the transfer of claimants from existing to devolved benefits is not expected to be completed until 2024.

The Scottish Government has drawn up a Charter setting out what people should expect from the new social security system in Scotland.  Information on How to make a complaint can be found on the Social Security Scotland website.

If a person has gone through the Social Security Scotland complaints process and is still dissatisfied, they can ask the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman​ (SPSO) to look at your complaint.  The SPSO is the final stage for complaints about public services in Scotland.​

Further reading

Disclaimer

The Commons Library does not intend the information in these articles to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs.

You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein.

You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information is required. This Library briefing provides information about sources of legal advice and help.