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9 Welfare benefits

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1. Introduction

2. Who can calim benefits?

3. If you have a low income

4. If you are having a baby or adopting a child

5. If you have children to look after

6. If you are unemployed

7. If you are ill and can´t work

8. If you have a disability

9. If you are just starting work

10. If you have retired or are about to retire

11. If your husband, wife or civil partner dies

12. Where do I claim?

13. What must I do when I claim?

14. What if I disagree with a decision about my claim?
You can challenge a decision on benefits or tax credits if you think your claim has been wrongly refused or you have not had the right amount.

If you want to challenge a benefit decision
You must first contact the agency that made the decision and tell them in writing that you want it to look at the decision again. You should keep a copy of your letter.

If you want to challenge a benefit decision, it is a good idea to get expert advice to ensure that you tell the agency or appeal tribunal everything that may persuade it to change the decision. See 'Further help' for where to find expert advice.

If you want the agency to look at a decision again, you must normally do this within one month of the original decision. This time limit can be increased to 13 months in some cases. In other situations (for example, if the agency involved made a mistake when deciding your claim) there is no time limit. If it changes the decision in your favour, the benefit will normally be paid from the date of the original decision. However, if there is a time limit, and you did not challenge the decision in time, the benefit may be paid from the date you asked the agency to look at the decision again.

If you are not happy with the new decision, you can still appeal to an appeal tribunal. You should do this within a month of the new decision. However, you can appeal straight away if you want to, without asking for the decision to be reconsidered first. For example, if the reasons why the decision is wrong are complicated, it may be quicker to appeal.

If you want to challenge a tax credit decision
After the initial decision has been made on your claim for tax credit, it can be revised (changed) if your circumstances change.

Remember that if you do not report some changes in time, you could get a penalty fine, be overpaid or lose tax credit.

You may also ask for a revision if you think the Tax Credit Office made a mistake in its initial decision. But you may not ask for a revision if your claim has been refused or your tax credit stopped.

You have the right to appeal if:

  • you think the initial decision was wrong;
  • your tax credit award is stopped; or
  • your claim was refused.

You have 30 days from the date of the revised decision. If you disagree with a revised decision you can appeal against this, too. You have 30 days from the date of the revised decision.

After a final decision on your claim at the end of the tax year, Tax Credit Office can still try to find out whether your entitlement to it was correct. You can appeal against any decision made because of this. You have 30 days after the decision was made to appeal.

If you can show that the Tax Credit Office made a mistake with its final decision, the decision can be revised. You can ask for this without having to appeal.

If you want to appeal against a decision
You can appeal against:

  • an initial decision;
  • a final decision; or
  • a decision changed because you asked the agency to look at it again.

The usual time limit for making an appeal is one month from when the decision was made for social security benefits and 30 days for tax credits. You may be able to appeal up to one year after this time limit ends if:

  • you can show that your appeal has a reasonable chance of success; or
  • it is in the interests of 'justice'. This means if something serious happened (for example you were ill, or your partner died) that made it difficult for you to appeal within the normal one-month or 30-day time limit.

How to make an appeal
If you are making an appeal, you must write to the office that made the decision you are appealing against. The Department for Work and Pensions, Tax Credit Office, Child Benefit Office and your local authority each has its own appeal forms which you should fill in if you can. If you can't get a form, they will accept a letter.

The appeal form or letter needs to describe the decision you are appealing against and the main reason you think it is wrong.

After you have appealed against a social security benefit decision, a decision-maker will look at the decision again to see if it should be changed. If the decision is not changed in your favour, it will automatically go to an appeal tribunal. For tax credits, the Tax Credit Office can decide to settle the case with you before a hearing takes place. If your appeal goes to an appeal tribunal, you have the choice of:

  • going to an oral hearing, where you can present your case in person; or
  • letting the tribunal decide your case on your claim form and appeal form or letter.

It is normally better to go to an oral hearing where you can explain your case in front of the tribunal. You can take someone with you if you wish, and it is best if this is someone with legal expertise. You must let the tribunal know which type of hearing you want, otherwise your appeal may not be heard at all.

How the appeal tribunal works
At an appeal tribunal, you can explain why you think a decision should be changed. The tribunal will include a solicitor or barrister and sometimes a doctor, an accountant or, if necessary, a person with experience of disability issues. The number and type of people on the tribunal will depend on the type of question. A representative of the DWP, Tax Credit Office, Child Benefit Office or local authority may also be there. They will present the case of the agency that made the decision.

The tribunal normally makes the decision on the same day, and will give you a written notice of the decision. It may also give you a full statement of the reasons for its decision (the 'full decision'), or you can write to ask for this within one month of the decision. You should ask for the full decision if you think you may want to challenge it.

Normally the appeal tribunal's decision is final. You can appeal further, to the Social Security Commissioner, but only on a 'point of law', for example if:

  • a tribunal misinterprets the law;
  • there is no evidence to support the decision;
  • the tribunal does not give a clear conclusion on the facts of the case; or
  • the tribunal does not provide adequate reasons for its decision.

If the agency appeals, it will not normally pay you your benefit or tax credit until the appeal is heard. Once a Commissioner has ruled on a case, you can appeal to the Court of Appeal, and finally, to the House of Lords, but only on important points of law.

If you do not have a right of further appeal, you may be able to challenge a decision by a process called ‘judicial review’. But this is complicated, and you will need expert legal advice to do this.

15. What if I´ve been badly treated?

16. The Human Rights Act

17. Further help

18. About this leaflet


This leaflet is published by the Gurkha Free Legal Advice (LSC). It was written in association with Rachel Hadwen, a specialist in welfare rights.

Leaflet Version: June 2008

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