Money matters: What to do if your benefits are turned down

There is always someone at the end of the line to help with benefits issues.

There is always someone at the end of the line to help with benefits issues. - Credit: Twitter / CambsCops

Thousands of people could be going without the welfare benefits they need, while the money the Government has already allocated for benefits is sitting in the Treasury unclaimed. With costs of food and utilities rising, every penny counts so it’s vital to know how to get what you are entitled to.

Many of the free advice agencies in the Norfolk Community Advice Network (NCAN) can help you to do benefits checks and to apply. Charlie Sayer, welfare rights manager, Norfolk Community Law Service (NCLS), explains some of the ways you can challenge benefits decisions if your application is turned down.

My benefits were stopped/my application was turned down. What can I do?

You have the right to challenge most benefit decisions. Many are overturned each year, so it’s well worth appealing. In 2021 NCLS won 87pc of appeals for our clients, helping them to secure benefits to the value of £978,490.98.

When you claim a benefit, you can challenge a negative benefit decision if you are refused or get less than you expected. You can also challenge it when the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) undertakes a periodic review, which affects disability benefits like Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

The main exception to the right of appeal is recoverability of overpayments of Universal Credit and Tax Credits. You can ask the DWP to consider reducing the recovery rate if you are in financial hardship.

What is the appeals process?

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First you must ask the decision-making body (usually the DWP) to have another look at their decision. They call this requesting a review or a “Mandatory Reconsideration”. Do this within one month of the date of the decision notice they send you. You can make a late request up to 13 months after the decision, but you must have good grounds for lateness.

If they do not overturn their decision in your favour at this stage, you have one month to appeal. Late appeals can be lodged up to 13 months after a decision with good grounds for lateness.

Your appeal usually begins with submitting an appeal form (for most benefits this is an SSCS1 form). You can download it from the internet, ask the DWP to post you a copy, or appeal online. Online appeals have the benefit of keeping you informed of progress by text or email.

You should request an oral hearing as appeals based on the papers have a low success rate.

You should submit any supporting evidence you have, for benefits like PIP that may include GP records or support letters from carers or Social Workers.

What next?

Decision makers look again at the decision and might award in your favour without you having to go to a Tribunal hearing. If they cannot change the decision, they have 28 days to send the appeals paperwork to the Tribunals Service.

A judge will then direct for most appeals to proceed to hearing. A few are allowed at that initial review.

You will receive a letter providing you with details of when your hearing will be held. During Covid 19 all oral hearings are by phone or video rather than at local hearing venues.

Typical wait times from a negative decision to your Tribunal date vary but the average waiting time is 39 weeks currently.

What happens at a Tribunal?

Tribunals are independent investigative hearings of your appeal. There are between one and three professionals on the panel, always headed by a Tribunal Judge. Their job is to consider the evidence and the law. Hearing from you helps them make a fair decision.

At PIP Tribunals for example a judge does the introductions and deals with legal issues, a medically qualified member asks you questions about your health and mobility, and a disability specialist member asks about daily living.

The 'Respondent', usually the DWP, can send a presenting officer to hearings but currently they attend very few Tribunals.

Other tips?

Get local advice and representation as soon as possible as it significantly increases your chances of success.

If you can’t get a representative for your hearing, still ask for an oral hearing as they have the greatest success rate. You can take a family member or friend for support.

Keep your appeal paperwork together and get evidence to support your case. Things like GP records, care plans, or letters of support are helpful for sickness and disability appeals. It is FREE to access your medical records.

For technical appeals like overpayments, capital, or living together having evidence is very important.

Some appeals open your entire award to scrutiny by the DWP and the Tribunal, which means you risk coming out with less than you went in with.

Or an award at tribunal might entitle you to knock-on extra benefits.

If I lose my appeal at Tribunal, what can I do?

You have the right to request the Tribunal statement of reasons within one month of the Tribunal and can then appeal if there is an error of law. Always seek advice.

Who should I contact for help?

We take our clients via NCAN referrals. For more information on how to be referred to us email wrars@ncls.co.uk or telephone 01603 851248

Or write to Welfare Rights NCLS, 14 Prince of Wales Road, Norwich NR1 1LB URL www.ncls.co.uk