Revisions, appeals & complaints
If you are unhappy with the outcome of a benefit decision, you usually have the right to challenge it.
How this happens depends on whether the benefit is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), or by the local authority.
If you're unhappy with the way a decision was handled, rather than the outcome of the decision, you might instead want to make a complaint.
Challenging benefit decisions by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
If you are unhappy with a decision made by the DWP or HMRC, you usually have a right to challenge that decision. For example, you might want to challenge a decision because you were refused benefit or because you think you should have received higher amounts. Your decision letter should make clear what rights you have.
There are two possible stages when challenging a decision:
- First you can ask for the decision to be looked at again. This is known as a mandatory reconsideration request.
- If you are not happy with the outcome of the reconsidered decision, you can then lodge an appeal.
You cannot ask for an appeal until after you have had a mandatory reconsideration.
For DWP benefits, you can request this over the telephone or in writing. For HMRC benefits you must make a request in writing.
In either case, you normally need to do this within one month of the date of the decision letter, although a late request may be accepted in certain limited circumstances. This can include where an old decision was based on error of law.
As part of having a decision reconsidered you can volunteer, or you may be asked to give, further information. Another decision maker will then have a fresh look at the case. When your reconsideration request has been decided, they will send you two Mandatory Reconsideration Notices in the post.
What if my decision letter doesn't explain any reasons for their decision?
If the decision letter doesn't include reasons for the decision, you can ask for a written statement of reasons. You must ask for this within one month of the date on the decision letter.
If the written statement of reasons is provided within that month, then the one-month time limit for requesting a mandatory reconsideration is extended by 14 days. If it is provided outside of the month time limit, you have 14 days from the date it is provided.
Warning! If reasons for the decision were included in the original decision letter then the time limit to ask for a reconsideration will not be extended. This remains the case even if you did not realise that reasons were included because they were so brief and general.
Because of this, we recommend that you always ask for a reconsideration within the one-month time scale, unless you have spoken to the DWP/HMRC and they have confirmed that the time limit will be extended because they are sending a written statement of reasons to you.
Asking for an appeal
If your request for a mandatory reconsideration results in the decision remaining unchanged or if they change it but don't give you everything you were looking for, you have the right to ask for an appeal. But remember, you can't ask for an appeal unless you have asked for a mandatory reconsideration first.
How do I appeal?
Your appeal request must be made in writing, and you will need to explain why you think the decision you are appealing against is wrong. It must include a copy of the Mandatory Reconsideration Notice that was sent to you.
You can appeal using an appeal form. If you are in England, Scotland or Wales then get the form to appeal a DWP decision and the form to appeal a HMRC decision. For some benefits, such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP), it is possible to make an appeal online. You can download appeal forms in Northern Ireland from NI Direct.
You must send your appeal request directly to the Courts and Tribunal Service (the Appeals Service in Northern Ireland), and it must be received by them within one month of the date on the reconsideration notice. If you miss this deadline, seek advice about making a late appeal.
One of the questions on the appeal form is whether you would like a 'paper hearing' (where you don't go to the meeting and the tribunal look at the papers and make a new decision), or an oral hearing (where you are invited to attend a meeting to discuss your appeal and a new decision is made).
It is always best to ask for an oral hearing. Statistically, oral hearings are more successful than paper hearings. If you can, get specialist advice to help you prepare your case. To find a specialist adviser who can help you appeal, use the advicelocal search tool.
The hearing is meant to be fairly informal, and you will have the opportunity to explain your case. You may find it useful to make notes before you go to the hearing, with the points you want to make and the supporting evidence you want to provide. Although you can go to an appeal by yourself, it is a good idea to see if a local advice service can provide a free representative to attend the appeal alongside you and to help you put forward your case.
Yes. If you have been awarded a benefit but are unhappy with the amount, you need to take into account the fact that asking for a mandatory reconsideration or appeal can sometimes result in benefit being reduced or lost rather than increased.
If you wish to challenge a decision on a Housing Benefit claim, you don't necessarily need to ask for a mandatory reconsideration first. Instead you can appeal immediately to an independent Tribunal. The choice is yours. You usually have a month within which to write to the local authority asking for a revision or an appeal, although this will sometimes be extended if there are special circumstances.
If you wish to challenge a decision on a Council Tax Discount or a Council Tax Disability Reduction, you can appeal to the local authority in question. There is no time limit for this. If your appeal is refused, you can appeal within two months to the Valuation Tribunal in England or Valuation Tribunal in Wales and within four months to the Valuation Appeal Committee in Scotland.
If you are unhappy with a decision about a Council Tax Reduction, you can ask your local authority to look at the decision again. You are expected to do this within one month. If you are not happy with the outcome of this appeal, you can then appeal within two months to the Valuation Tribunal in England or Wales.
In Scotland you can ask your local authority to review their decision. You must do this within two months. If you are unhappy with the outcome you can ask for a further review within 42 days by the Council Tax Reduction Review Panel.
Sometimes you might be unhappy with how your claim for a benefit has been handled, but it may be an issue where you have no right to ask for a mandatory reconsideration or appeal.
For instance, you may be unhappy about the length of time it has taken to deal with your claim, or you may be unhappy about how a member of staff has talked to you.
In these circumstances you can make a complaint instead.
Making a complaint might result in an explanation of why the problem occurred, a promise that the problem will be put right, if possible, or a change in procedure to avoid other people having to face the same problems. In some circumstances it can also lead to compensation, for instance if you have suffered a financial loss.
Each DWP agency has its own complaints procedure. To complain, contact the office that dealt with your claim.
If you are not happy with their response, you can ask for your complaint to be dealt with by a more senior DWP officer. This is known as a 'tier one' complaint.
If you are still dissatisfied, you can make a 'tier two' complaint, which is dealt with by a senior DWP manager. If you are still not satisfied following this, you can complain to the Independent Case Examiner.
If you want to complain about how HMRC has dealt with your Tax Credit, child benefit or guardian's allowance claim, you should start by writing to the person who has been dealing with your case.
If you are not happy with their response, you can ask that it be passed to an HMRC customer service adviser. If you are not happy with the HMRC reply, you can ask the Adjudicator to look into the matter and recommend appropriate action.
If you are complaining about a housing benefit or Council Tax issue, you will need to contact the office that has been dealing with this and ask for details of their complaints procedure. You may also want to contact your local councillor to ask them to raise your complaint with council officials.
If you are unhappy with how your complaint is being dealt with, you may wish to raise this matter with your MP. Complaints supported by an MP are often dealt with more quickly by these government agencies.
Your MP can also refer a case to The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman if they believe that you have experienced an injustice because of maladministration of your benefit claim. However, the Ombudsman cannot usually investigate a complaint unless you have first exhausted that agency's complaints procedure.
Whether you want to challenge a benefits decision or complain about how a benefits claim has been handled, it is a good idea to try and get help from a local advice service that helps with benefits issues.