The right of appeal
When your Housing Benefit claim has been decided, you will receive a decision letter. If you disagree with any part of the assessment you have the right to dispute the decision.
What options do I have?
You have one calendar month to dispute the decision. If you request a detailed explanation, any time taken by the benefit section to respond to your request will be added to the one month time limit. However, if you intend to take the matter further, it's important that you allow yourself sufficient time to get your request for a reconsideration, or appeal, to the council within the one month time limit. If you don't request a detailed explanation until a day or so before the one month time limit is due to end, you may run out of time and any request for reconsideration or appeal may be received late.
If you disagree with the decision you can:
a) Request a reconsideration
You can ask us to reconsider our decision about your claim for Housing Benefit including the LHA rate we have applied to you. You must include details of why you think our decision is wrong.
b) Request a detailed explanation
If you request a detailed explanation, the benefit section will explain how your Housing Benefit was assessed. If you put your request for a detailed explanation in writing you will receive a written statement of reasons, giving a detailed breakdown of the information used to assess your claim. If you're happy with the detailed explanation the matter will end there. If you're still not satisfied, you can ask the benefit section to look at your claim again or you can appeal against the decision.
c) Appeal against the decision
- Decision correct - If the benefit officer decides that the original decision was made correctly, you will be notified of the decision, and of your right to appeal.
- Decision incorrect - If the benefit officer decides that the decision was wrong, your claim will be amended and you will be notified of the new decision. You will also be notified of your right to dispute the new decision. Your dispute rights will start again from the beginning, regardless of whether the new decision has made you better or worse off.
Your request for an appeal must be in writing and signed.
Appealing against the decision
If you decide to appeal against the decision, your appeal must be in writing. You can write a letter or use the council's approved appeals form.
You must state clearly the decision under appeal, what you disagree with, and your grounds for appeal. When the benefit section receives your appeal it will be looked at again by a different decision maker - usually the council's Appeals Officer - to decide whether the original decision was correct.
If the Appeals Officer decides that the original decision was made correctly, your appeal will be forwarded to the Social Security Tribunal. They are independent of the Council and the DWP.
The Tribunal is part of the First-tier Tribunal which belongs to the system of courts and tribunals which decide people's rights. It deals with disputes about social security benefits, including tax credits, and child support maintenance. Unlike going to court, there are no fees or risk of costs involved.
The Tribunals Service is a free service. The Tribunal does not have the power to award costs either against you or in your favour, nor can it award compensation or damages.
We will send you an explanation about why we think the decision was right. As well as the statement you will get a bundle of papers called the Council response. This bundle will have copies of your claim form and any letters and reports. It can be quite big, often around 100 pages. This is because it may contain copies of claim forms you have completed, screen prints of your entitlement and a detailed explanation of the law used to make the decision.
We will also send a copy of the statement and bundle to your representative if you have one and to the Tribunals Service. Shortly after you receive the bundle, the Tribunal will send you an enquiry form.
The enquiry form must be returned within 14 days otherwise your appeal will end.
If your written appeal is made after the one month time limit your appeal will be treated as a late appeal.
If you can show that there were special circumstances for late appeal, and if you make a written request for an extension of the time limit for appeal, the Appeals Officer may be able to accept your appeal and deal with it as if it wasn't late.
If the Appeals Officer does not consider that you have shown there were special circumstances for making the appeal late your appeal will be forwarded to the Tribunal as a late appeal.
The Tribunal will then decide whether or not to accept your late appeal. There is an overall maximum time limit of 13 months for appeal - if your appeal is received more than 13 months after the decision date your late appeal cannot be accepted.
The tribunal hearing
The tribunal will arrange a hearing date and your appeal will be heard locally. Most tribunals are held at Harlow, but there are other local Tribunals at Basildon. You will be provided with a full written report of the council's decision (the council's response) and all relevant case papers.
Each tribunal has a legally qualified member who is a judge. There may be 1 or 2 other members depending on the type of appeal you have. The tribunal is quite informal and will probably only consist of a judge, (and up to two yourself, and a representative from the council. You may take a representative with you if you wish, or a friend for support.
Can I decide to withdraw my appeal?
You can withdraw your appeal at any time prior to the hearing date. If you decide to withdraw your appeal you must do so in writing. You can write to the council or use the council's approved 'Appeals Form' to withdraw your appeal.
Do I have to attend the hearing?
If you have asked for your appeal to be decided on the papers only, your case will be put before the tribunal as soon as possible and you will be told of the outcome. If you have asked to go to the hearing, the tribunal will send you a letter telling you when and where the hearing will take place. The tribunal will usually be able to give you at least 14 days notice of the hearing. If you ask to attend your hearing, as The Social Security and Child Support Tribunal deal with over 200,000 appeals each year, you may have to wait between 6 months and a year for a hearing.
What happens at the tribunal?
At the hearing the judge will consider your letter of appeal and any evidence you provide in support of your appeal. If you are represented by a solicitor or welfare rights adviser they may present your case for you. It is important to note that as tribunals are quite informal and are fact finding, you will not normally need a solicitor. The judge will also consider the council's submission and will ask questions of both the council and yourself in order to ensure the full facts are known.
In a court, evidence is given by lawyers asking questions. In the tribunal, it is rare for either side to have a lawyer to represent them. The
- Tribunal takes responsibility for asking any questions. You should bear in mind the following
- The tribunal will want to focus on the issues that are being disagreed about. Do not worry if the tribunal does not ask about every part of your case
- If there are big differences in evidence from you, the benefit office or council, the Tribunal will ask detailed questions to try to resolve this
- The tribunal will try to make sure that you do not forget all the issues you have in your appeal
- In disability appeals, the tribunal may have to ask personal questions but it will try to do this in a sensitive way
- As giving evidence is an important part of the hearing, the tribunal will try to make sure that there are no distractions or interruptions
- and everyone will get their turn to speak
- If you think anything has been missed out, let the Judge know
After the hearing the judge will ask both parties to leave the room while he/she makes a decision. If he/she is unable to make a decision immediately the decision will be sent later.
What happens if I disagree with the tribunal decision?
If you disagree with the tribunal chair's decision you may be able to take the matter further. This will involve appealing to the Upper Tribunal Administrative Appeals Chamber. You may only appeal to the Upper Tribunal on a point of law. If you intend to appeal it would be advisable to seek independent advice. This is a very formal process, involving upper court judges. You may wish to contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for assistance in preparing an appeal to the Upper Tribunal. The address and telephone number of the Citizens Advice Bureau is: The Citizens Advice Bureau, Town Hall, Ingrave Road CM15 8AY. Telephone: 0808 2787877