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Challenging a benefit or tax credit decision - asking for a mandatory reconsideration

This advice applies to England

If you don't agree with the outcome of a decision made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) about your claim, you can challenge it.

To do this, you need to ask the DWP or HMRC to look at their decision again - this is called asking for a 'mandatory reconsideration'.

If you think the decision is wrong, you can ask for a mandatory reconsideration for any reason.

You can ask for a reconsideration when you want to challenge:

  • a decision made on a new claim
  • a decision made to change your claim
  • a decision made when you asked to change the claim

A decision maker will look at the decision again and decide whether to change it or keep it the same. You will not be able to appeal against the decision until you know the outcome of the reconsideration.

When to ask for a mandatory reconsideration

Your benefit decision letter must tell you the time limit for asking for the decision to be looked at again.

For most benefits, this will be 1 month from the date the original decision was sent to you. For tax credits, you must ask for a reconsideration within 30 days of the date of the decision.

If you've missed the deadline it's still worth applying for mandatory reconsideration.

If you've missed the deadline

If you miss the 1 month deadline, it's still worth sending your mandatory reconsideration. You have to get it to the DWP within 13 months of the date on the decision letter.

You'll need to give a good reason for why you couldn't ask within the 1 month time limit. For example, because you'd spent some time in hospital. The longer it is since the deadline, the stronger your reason will need to be.

Write to the benefit office and explain why you missed the deadline. Send this letter to the address on your decision letter.

The DWP or HMRC can refuse your application if it's late, but as long as you applied within 13 months you can usually still appeal that decision at a tribunal.

If you're applying for tax credits, HMRC might accept your late request but you might not be allowed to appeal.

If you got the decision letter more than 13 months ago

The benefits office might change the decision if they made a mistake – known as an 'official error'. This includes if they:

  • made a mistake when calculating your benefit - for example, if they didn't include a premium you're entitled to
  • overlooked a piece of evidence you sent them - for example, that showed you had less than £16,000 in savings

You'll need to write to the benefit office to explain why you think they made an official error. Write 'Request for official error revision' at the top of your letter and include:

Send it to the address on the decision letter.

When the time limit can be extended

The decision letter should contain a written statement of reasons telling you why the decision has been made. If you don't receive this, you have the right to ask for a statement.

The time limit for asking for a reconsideration will be longer if you have asked for a written statement of reasons:

  • if the statement is sent to you within the month, you will have one month and 14 days from the date the decision was sent to challenge it
  • if the statement is sent more than one month after the decision was sent, you have 14 days from the date the statement was sent to challenge it.

If you're not sure if the decision includes a written statement of reasons, it's important to ask for a reconsideration as soon as possible so you don’t miss the one-month deadline.

How to ask for a mandatory reconsideration

Check what it says in the letter or email telling you about the decision. It should tell you how you can challenge the decision.

If the decision notice does not include a statement of reasons for the decision, you have a right to ask for one. You must ask for a statement within one calendar month of the date the decision was sent to you.

For DWP benefits

To ask for a mandatory reconsideration you can:

It's usually better to use the form or write a letter, so you can keep a record of why you disagree with the decision, and proof that you asked for it to be looked at again.

If you're getting close to the deadline, it's best to call first and then confirm what you talked about in writing.

The contact details should be on your decision letter.

For HMRC benefits and tax credits

There are forms you can use to ask for a mandatory reconsideration:

You can write a letter or call if you prefer - the contact details should be on your decision letter. You should explain why you think the decision is wrong and ask for it to be looked at again.

Keep a copy if you use a form or write a letter - and make a note of the date you send it. Make sure you send copies of any further evidence you’ve got since you made your claim, if it will help your case.

What happens when the decision maker reconsiders the decision

Usually a different decision maker will look at the decision again. If it looks likely that based on the evidence they have, the decision is unlikely to change in your favour, the decision maker should phone you to discuss this. They should ask you whether there is any further evidence you can give, or whether you can explain anything that is unclear about the claim.

If the decision maker needs to discuss your claim with you, they should try to call you at least twice on the same day. It is important when you ask for a reconsideration that you give a phone number where you can easily be reached.

The decision maker should make more effort to contact you if you are vulnerable and try to phone you several times if they don't manage to speak to you straightaway. Make it clear if there is a reason that may make it difficult for you to answer the phone. For example:

  • you take medication that makes you drowsy
  • you have mobility problems and it takes a long time to reach the phone
  • you have mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, which mean you may not feel able to answer the call

If the decision maker can’t contact you they will make their decision based on the information they already have.

You must send any further evidence within one month from the date of the telephone conversation with the decision maker. The decision maker will wait to receive it before they continue looking at the decision. They may give you more time if it will be difficult to get the extra information. You must explain why you need more time before the time limit for asking for a reconsideration is up.

If you don’t return any evidence within the deadline you’ve agreed with the decision maker, they will make their decision without it.

How long a mandatory reconsideration takes

There is no limit on the amount of time it will take the DWP or HMRC to reconsider the decision.

The government has said that, in a straightforward case where no additional information is needed, it should take around 14 days. But it could take longer than this.

If you think that the delay is unreasonable in your case, you could try making a complaint.

What happens when the decision has been reconsidered

When the decision has been looked at again it will either remain the same or be changed by revision. Revision means that if the decision is changed, you will get any backdated benefit you're owed to the date of the original decision.

It's possible for the revision to result in your benefits being reduced. If you disagree with a revision made after a reconsideration, you can appeal to a First-Tier tribunal.

The DWP or HMRC will send you 2 Mandatory Reconsideration Notices to notify you of the outcome of the reconsideration. One copy is for you and the other is to send to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) if you want to make an appeal. You won’t be able to appeal without a Mandatory Reconsideration Notice.

Details of your appeal rights should be included in the letter.

Next steps

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