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Challenging a benefits decision


It might happen that you will disagree with the State’s decision regarding the benefits you receive. In most cases, you will be able to challenge that decision. The process of appealing a benefits decision has recently changed. We’ve outlined the new rules for you:

What if I disagree with my benefits decision?

Anyone claiming state benefits (for example, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance) or Tax Credits can challenge a decision made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). This includes people claiming Universal Credit, which has now been rolled out in almost 100 jobcentres throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

How do I begin challenging a benefits decision?

As of 28 October 2013, the process for challenging a decision has changed. Now you have to ask the DWP or the HMRC to look at their decision again before you can appeal. This is called ‘mandatory reconsideration’.

You can ask for a reconsideration when you disagree with:

  • A decision made on a new claim.
  • A decision made to change your claim.
  • A decision made when you asked to change a claim.

When can I ask for a reconsideration?

For benefits paid by the DWP, you must ask for a reconsideration within one month of the date the decision was sent to you. This date will be written on your decision notice.

For Tax Credits paid by HMRC, such as Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance, you must ask for a reconsideration within 30 days of the date of the decision. This date will also be stated on your decision notice.

Your decision letter should contain a written statement telling you why the decision has been made. If you do not receive the statement, you have the right to request it. The time limit for asking for a reconsideration will be longer if you have asked for a written statement of reasons:

  • If the statement is sent to you within the month, you will have one month and 14 days from the date the decision was sent to challenge it.
  • If the statement is sent more than one month after the decision was sent, you have 14 days from the date the statement was sent to challenge it.

If you are not sure if the decision includes a written statement of reasons, it is important to ask for a reconsideration as soon as possible so that you do not miss your deadline.

How do I ask for a reconsideration?

Your decision letter should set out the ways in which you can challenge the decision. You must ask the office that made the decision to look at it again. The contact details will be stated on your decision letter.

You can ask for a reconsideration in writing, by phone or in person. For DWP benefits, there is no special form to fill in - all you need to do is write a letter. However, if you are getting close to the deadline, it is advisable to phone first and then confirm your phone call in writing.

For HMRC benefits and Tax Credits, there are forms you can use to ask for a reconsideration, or you can write a letter or phone if you prefer. The forms are available in factsheets on the HMRC website:



What if I miss the deadline for asking for a reconsideration?

If you miss the deadline to apply for a reconsideration, it can be extended by up to 13 months from the latest date you should have applied, if the following conditions are met:

  • You apply to the decision maker for an extension to the time limit, explaining why the application is late and why you want an extension. The application must give enough information for the decision maker to identify the decision you want to challenge.
  • You apply within 13 months of the latest date you should have applied for a reconsideration.
  • The decision maker is satisfied that it is reasonable to extend the time limit.
  • There are special circumstances that meant you couldn't apply in time.

If you need help with this process, you can contact THT Direct or the Online Advice service.

What happens next?

Usually a different decision maker will look at your decision again. If, based on the evidence they have, it looks like the decision is unlikely to change in your favour, the decision maker should phone you to discuss this. They should ask you whether there is any further evidence you can give or whether you can explain anything that is unclear about your claim. They should try to call you at least twice on the same day.

If you are vulnerable, the decision maker should make more effort to contact you if they cannot reach you straight away. You should make it clear if there are reasons that may make it difficult for you to answer the phone — for example, if you have mobility issues.

If they cannot reach you they will make their decision based on the information they already have.

You must send any further evidence within one month from the date of your telephone conversation with the decision maker. They may grant you more time if getting the necessary extra information will be difficult. If you do not send the additional evidence before the deadline, they will make their decision based on the information that they already have.

The original decision will either remain the same or be revised. If it is revised you will receive any backdated benefit due to you from the original decision date.

Straightforward cases can reach a decision in as little as 14 days, but there is no set time limit and some cases can take much longer.

What if I’m still not happy with the decision?

If you still disagree with your new decision, it’s worth checking whether you have the right to appeal.

You will receive two Mandatory Reconsideration Notices from either the DWP or HMRC, notifying you of the outcome of the reconsideration. One copy is for you and the other is to be sent to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) if you want to make an appeal. You won’t be able to appeal without a Mandatory Reconsideration Notice.

Details of your appeal rights should be included in the letter.

Your appeal will be heard by an independent tribunal called the First-Tier Tribunal.

How do I begin to appeal against the new decision?

To appeal, you need to fill in form SSCS1. You should also read the guide produced by HMCTS called How to appeal against a decision made by the Department for Work and Pensions.

You must appeal within one month of the date stated on the letter or email telling you of the outcome of your reconsideration.

If you miss the deadline, HMCTS can still accept your appeal for up to 13 months after the decision was sent if you can give good reasons for why it is late. However, the DWP can object to the reasons you give. If this happens, a judge will decide whether the appeal can be accepted.

Decisions you cannot appeal against:

  • You cannot usually appeal against decisions such as when and how to pay your benefit.
  • You also won't be able to appeal if the DWP has suspended your claim because they think you are not entitled to it.

The letter informing you of the decision must say whether you can appeal and how to do this. If the letter says you don’t have the right to appeal, and you think the DWP has made a mistake, you can apply to HMCTS for a ruling on whether you have a legal right to appeal. Before you do this, you should get advice from a specialist adviser: you can contact THT Direct or the Online Advice Service.

What if my decision was made before 28 October 2013?

In this case, mandatory reconsideration doesn’t apply and you have the right to immediately appeal directly to a tribunal.

Will appealing a decision impact on my Employment and Support Allowance?

No ESA would be payable during the mandatory reconsideration stage unless you have been placed in the work-related activity group and are challenging a decision not to place you in the support group. In this case, you would continue to get ESA with the work-related activity component, both during the mandatory reconsideration stage and any subsequent appeal. However, you must continue to meet the other conditions of entitlement for ESA and must not claim income support or Jobseeker's Allowance. You should also inform Jobcentre Plus that you wish to continue claiming ESA, and provide medical certificates.

Payments of ESA will begin from the date that the DWP receives a request for an appeal response from HMCTS, notifying the DWP that the claimant has lodged an appeal.

If you are challenging the decision to treat you as fit for work because you failed to return form ESA50 or failed to attend a medical examination, you will not be treated as having limited capability for work and you will not be paid ESA even if you appeal.

If you are appealing against a decision that your Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance could not be converted into contributory ESA, you will still be able to get contributory ESA while appealing, but not for more than the normal period of 365 days.

You can also get ESA payments while appealing against a decision that your income support cannot be converted into income-related ESA.

It is best to seek advice on this generally and on whether to claim Jobseekers Allowance or ESA while appealing. You can contact THT Direct or our Online Advisers with any questions. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau will also be able to assist you.

If you are based in Scotland and are left without any income while appealing against an ESA decision, you may be able to get a discretionary Crisis Grant from your Local Authority.

More on how to challenge a benefits decision:

www.adviceguide.org.uk—for further information on benefits


How to appeal against a decision made by the Department for Work and Pensions—document issued by HM Courts & Tribunals Service

This content is currently being reviewed and will be updated shortly.



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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 13/1/2015 by A. Peters

Date due for the next review: 13/1/2018

Content Author: G. Arrindell

Current Owner: D. Anyanwu

More information: Challenging a benefit or tax credit decision - a Citizens Advice Bureau resource; 189 Employment and support allowance (ESA) \\randi\advisernet\AdviserNet EW files\PDF\09055035_EWSNI_TAX_CREDITS_OVER.PDF

How to appeal against a decision made by the Department for Work and Pensions, document SSCS1A, by HM Courts & Tribunals Service