Challenging welfare benefits decisions
There have been many changes to the rules regarding welfare benefits recently, and there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding them. What is certain is that those who make welfare benefit decisions don’t always get things right.
If you believe that you have been treated unfairly because your claim has been wrongly refused or you have not received the right benefits, then you are legally entitled to challenge the decision. Here we will look at some of the common questions regarding challenging welfare benefits, we will inform you of your legal rights and give you details of where you can find help and advice.
Who makes welfare benefits decisions?
Different agencies are responsible for different welfare benefit decisions. Benefits and Social Fund payments are the responsibility of the Department for Work and Pensions and your local authority makes decisions on housing. HMRC decides on Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and National Insurance Credits, and decisions on Statutory Maternity and Paternity Pay, Statutory Sick Pay, and Statutory Adoption Pay are made by employers, though disputes regarding these decisions can be appealed to HMRC.
How do I challenge a benefit decision?
The first thing that you need to do is to inform the agency in writing that that you are unhappy with their decision and that you want them to review it. You might need help in doing this so check out our getting help section below.
How long do I have before I have to contact the agency?
This can depend on your circumstances. You usually need to contact the agency within a month of the decision date, though often this can be increased to a year. In some circumstances there is no time limit, but generally you will need to show that the agency made an error.
What is supersession?
A supersession is a revised decision that supplements the original decision, rather than replacing it. The original decision stands, but the supersession comes into effect on a specified date. It could result in an increase or reduction in your benefit or it could stop it completely.
Can my benefits be backdated?
If a decision is reversed, then the benefit pay outs would be backdated to the date of the original decision, but in circumstances where there is a time limit (see above) then the benefits would be backdated only until the date of your letter informing them of your claim.
Can a revised decision go against me?
When asking for a decision to be looked at again there is always the danger that the new decision will be worse for you than the previous one was. A decision will only be revised if it was incorrect in the first place, but there is the possibility that the revised decision could result in a reduced amount of benefit being paid to you or your benefit being stopped altogether. If in doubt, you are better off speaking to a specialist benefits solicitor.
What happens if the agency disagrees with my claim and doesn’t decide in my favour?
If the agency doesn’t come up with a new decision that you are happy with, you can escalate your claim to the appeal tribunal but you must do this within a month of the revised decision.
How do I appeal to the tribunal?
You can fill in a form or write a letter stating your reasons for the appeal and why you think the decision is wrong. You should also supply any additional evidence that you might have. Appealing could result in your benefits being reduced so you need to be sure of your facts.
Getting help – Support Groups and Government Bodies
This is the official site of the UK government, and the link below will take you to the benefits department page.
Visit the Gov.uk website
This help line is for the government benefits enquiry line. They should be able to answer many of your questions about benefits.
Phone: 0800 88 22 00 (free phone) or use the website
Citizens advice is a network of centres offering independent and free advice.
Phone: 08444 111 444 or visit Citizens Advice online
If you are on low income or on benefits and cannot afford a solicitor to work your case, you may be able to get legal aid to receive advice on benefits appeals.
Phone: 0845 345 4345 or go to the website for my information
If you are disabled and have problems with your benefits, this government helpline is set up exclusively to support you.
Phone: 08457 123 456 or go online
This is another government agency that specifically deals with complaints and issues about other government bodies. For example if you feel you have been treated unfairly, you may raise a complaint with them.
Phone: 0845 606 0777 or visit the website
Shelter is a charity set up specifically for housing led issues and offers free advice on Housing Benefits.
Phone: 0808 800 4444 or find out more online
Appealing against unfair decisions
Welfare benefits decisions and appealing against them are very complicated and there are many pitfalls that must be avoided. As we have highlighted above, there is a possibility of losing some or all of your benefits with an incorrect claim. You are strongly advised to seek help from a solicitor who is experienced in challenging welfare benefit decisions, especially if your case involves being accused of benefit fraud. You can find your local QualitySolicitors branch here.
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