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Appealing an Income Support decision at a tribunal

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

You can appeal to a tribunal if the Department for Communities (DfC) didn’t change their decision when you asked for a mandatory reconsideration.

The tribunal is independent of the DfC and will be made up of 1 or 2 experts, for example a solicitor and an accountant. They’ll look at your evidence and hear what you have to say. They’ll also look at any evidence from the DfC and then make a decision.

Before you appeal to a tribunal

You must ask the DfC to look at their decision again - called a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ - before you can appeal to a tribunal. See challenging an Income Support decision for how to ask for a mandatory reconsideration.

When you should appeal to a tribunal

You should appeal to a tribunal if, after reading the reasons on the ‘mandatory reconsideration notice’, you still think the decision is wrong. For example, if you think:

  • you’ve been paid the wrong amount
  • you’ve been wrongly refused Income Support
  • your Income Support shouldn’t have been stopped
  • you haven’t been overpaid - or that you shouldn’t pay the money back
  • you shouldn’t have been sanctioned, for example for not going to a work-focused interview

The mandatory reconsideration notice is the letter from the DfC with ‘About your mandatory reconsideration’ written at the top. You’ll need to send a copy of this notice when you ask for an appeal.

Getting specialist help

You can get help from a Citizens Advice adviser at any point in the appeal process. They can help you:

  • fill in the form to ask for an appeal
  • understand any documents you’re sent
  • reply to any letters from the tribunal or the DfC
  • photocopy and post documents
  • prepare for the appeal hearing and might go with you

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice to book an appointment. Take your mandatory reconsideration notice and original decision letter to your first appointment, if you can.

If the tribunal doesn’t agree with your reasons for appealing they either won’t change the decision or they’ll make a new decision. If it’s a new decision there’s a chance they’ll decide to reduce your Income Support even more or increase your overpayment. For example, they might increase your overpayment if your Income Support has stopped and there’s evidence it should have stopped even earlier.

You should be sure you have a good chance of getting the decision changed in your favour before you ask for an appeal. If you’re not sure, contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help.

The Appeals Service (TAS) must get your appeal within 1 month of the date on your mandatory reconsideration notice - so allow time for posting. You can find the date at the top of the notice. 

If you’ve missed the deadline

If it’s less than 13 months since the date of your mandatory reconsideration notice, you might still be able to appeal. You’ll need to have a good reason for the delay, for example:

  • it took a long time for the DfC to send you your mandatory reconsideration notice
  • you posted your appeal in time, but it got lost in the post
  • someone in your family was seriously ill

The tribunal will extend the time you have to appeal if the DfC agrees you had a good reason. Even if the DfC doesn’t agree, the tribunal will extend the time if they think you should have been given an extension.

The tribunal might also agree to extend the time in the interest of fairness and justice. For example, if the decision you’re appealing against is stopping you claiming other benefits or has left you in debt.

To ask for an appeal you’ll need to fill in the appeal form on TAS website. The form guides you through what to include, but if you’re not sure about anything, contact your nearest Citizens Advice. An adviser can help you fill in the form.

You can ask for an appeal by writing to TAS, but it’s better to use the form as it’s easier to include all the information TAS need. 

If you ask for an appeal in writing, write ‘Appeal’ at the top of your letter and include:

  • your full name
  • why you think the decision is wrong
  • a copy of your mandatory reconsideration notice

The DfC should pass on any evidence you’ve given them to TAS. You don’t need to send it again with your appeal form or letter.

TAS will send you a copy of all the evidence they’ve received - called an ‘appeal bundle’. It’s important to check this has all the evidence you gave the DfC. If anything is missing, you should send it to TAS - explaining that the DfC failed to send it.

If you want to reopen a cancelled appeal

An appeal can be cancelled if you fail to do something TAS asks for, like sending them a certain document. TAS will write to warn you that your appeal is in danger of being cancelled so you have the chance to stop it.

You can ask for a cancelled appeal to be looked at again - known as getting an appeal ‘reinstated’. Write to TAS and include:

  • your full name and address
  • your National Insurance number
  • the decision you’re appealing
  • the date your appeal was cancelled
  • why you failed to do something TAS asked for
  • why you think your appeal should be looked at again

You should write no more than 1 month after TAS wrote to tell you about the cancellation. If you need this time extended, explain in your letter why you missed the 1 month deadline.

Explaining why you’re appealing

The most important part of the form is ‘Section 3: Grounds for appeal’. In this box you need to give the specific reasons why you disagree with the decision.

Use your decision letter and mandatory reconsideration notice to list each of the statements you disagree with and why. Give facts and examples - and mention the evidence you’ve sent to the DfC to support what you’re saying. You can use the same examples and evidence as for your mandatory reconsideration.

If you have any new evidence, send it with your form too.

You should send any new evidence as soon as possible to TAS. If you wait until the hearing it might be delayed - called ‘adjourned’ - to give the DfC time to look at the evidence.

Going to the appeal hearing

You’ll be sent a Hearing Type Enquiry (HTE) form asking if you want to be there when the tribunal considers your appeal - known as an ‘oral hearing’.

It’s always better to go to the hearing, if you can. You’ll have more chance to put your case forward and can answer any questions the tribunal might have.

You can take your representative with you, for example someone from Citizens Advice or a solicitor, if you have one. Or you can ask someone to go with you for support.

If you ask for the hearing to be done without you - called a ‘paper hearing’ - you’ll miss out on being able to tell the tribunal about your case. You’ll have a much better chance of success if you go to the hearing in person.

Sending the appeal form

Send the completed form or letter to TAS by Royal Mail Signed For and keep the receipt - you might need to prove when you posted it and when it arrived.

The Appeals Service
PO Box 2202
Belfast
BT1 9GY

TAS will check the form and then ask the DfC for their response within 28 days.

TAS will send you:

  • a copy of the DfC’s response
  • information about what happens next
  • details of when and where the hearing will be (if you’ve said you want to be there)

If the DfC changes the decision before the hearing

The DfC might write to you and TAS to say they’ve changed the decision before the appeal hearing.

If the change is in your favour, TAS will cancel the hearing. The letter from the DfC will tell you what to do if you’re not happy with the new decision and still want to appeal.

If the change isn't in your favour - for example your Income Support has been reduced further - the hearing will go ahead as planned.

Finding out the tribunal’s decision

If you go to the hearing, you’ll usually be told the decision on the day - and be given a written copy. If the tribunal needs longer to decide, or you’re not at the hearing, they’ll write to tell you their decision.

If you disagree with the tribunal’s decision

You might be able to appeal to the Social Security Commissioners if you disagree with the first tribunal’s decision. An adviser can help you decide if you should appeal further and can help you prepare your appeal. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice to get an appointment.

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