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Challenging an Income Support decision - mandatory reconsideration

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

You can tell the Department for Communities (DfC) if you think a decision about your Income Support is wrong and should be changed. Asking them to look at your claim again is called a ‘mandatory reconsideration’.

You can ask for a mandatory reconsideration to challenge any Income Support decision. For example, if:

  • you’ve been refused Income Support

  • you think you’ve been paid the wrong amount 

  • your Income Support has stopped - see reasons why it might have stopped

  • the DfC thinks you’ve been overpaid and you disagree
  • you don’t think you should pay back an overpayment
 - for example because you had a serious health problem

If you claim as a couple, the person who makes the claim for you both needs to ask for the mandatory reconsideration.

Before you ask for a mandatory reconsideration

If you're not sure you have a good chance of getting your Income Support decision changed visit your nearest Citizens Advice for help. Try to get in touch straightaway - you might have to wait for an appointment and only have 1 month to ask for a mandatory reconsideration.

The DfC could decide to reduce your Income Support when they look at your claim again. If this happens, you'll have been overpaid since the date of the original decision – and will usually need to pay this money back.

You usually have 1 month from the date of the decision to ask for a mandatory reconsideration. You’ll find the date at the top of the letter that told you the decision.

If the decision was more than 1 month ago

You can still ask for a mandatory reconsideration, as long as it’s within 13 months of the decision. You’ll need to give a good reason for why you couldn’t ask within 1 month, like:

  • you, your partner or child has been seriously ill

  • your partner or child died

  • there was a disruption to the normal postal service

Call the DfC and explain why you missed the 1-month deadline. To help get them to accept your late mandatory reconsideration, say why it’s important they change the decision.

DfC - Income Support
Telephone: 0800 022 4250
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

The DfC can refuse a late application, but if you think you’ve been treated unfairly you can make a complaint.

If you got the decision letter more than 13 months ago, the DfC might change the decision if they made a mistake – known as an ‘official error’. This includes if the DfC:

  • made a mistake when calculating your Income Support
  • overlooked a piece of evidence you sent them

  • misunderstood some evidence you sent

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

  • your full name
  • your National Insurance number, if you can
  • what the official error was

Send it to the address on the decision letter.

Finding evidence to support your challenge

The DfC will usually only change a decision if you have evidence to prove why it was wrong. It’s important to send copies of any evidence you have when you ask for a mandatory reconsideration.

If you reported a change in circumstances

You might have been paid the wrong amount of Income Support if the DfC missed a change you reported.

If you wrote to the DfC to report the change, send copies of the letter and proof of postage, if you have it.

If you need to prove you live alone

Your Income Support decision can be wrong if the DfC thinks you live with a partner when you don’t - for example, if you’ve recently split up with someone.

If you’re in touch with the person the DfC thinks you live with, ask them for a copy of a recent bill. A bill from another address will help prove that they don’t live with you. As well as household bills, this could be an entertainment subscription, like Sky or Netflix.

You should also send copies of one or more of the following:

  • a letter from your landlord confirming only you live there

  • your tenancy agreement - to show it’s in just your name

  • bank statements for as long as the DfC thinks you’ve been living together - for security, use a pen to cover your account number and sort code

  • rates bills and utility bills in just your name

If you need to prove you’re a carer

Your Income Support decision might be wrong if the DfC:

  • doesn’t believe you’re the one responsible for caring for someone with a disability or illness

  • wrongly thinks you should be getting Carer’s Allowance to get Income Support

You don’t have to be getting Carer’s Allowance to get Income Support, but if you are, you can use this to prove you’re a carer. Send a copy of your Carer’s Allowance award notice with your request for a mandatory reconsideration.

If you don’t get Carer’s Allowance, in your letter tell the DfC if you regularly care for someone who:

  • gets Attendance Allowance 

  • gets the care part of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) at the middle or highest rates

  • gets the daily living part of Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

  • in the last 26 weeks has applied for Attendance Allowance, DLA or PIP

Explain in your letter how you regularly care for someone - this is particularly important if they don’t get Attendance Allowance, DLA or PIP. The DfC might contact you to ask for more information about the type of care you give.

Asking for a mandatory reconsideration

You can call the DfC to ask for a reconsideration, but it’s better to write a letter so you have everything in writing. If it’s close to the 1-month deadline, you should call the DfC. Make a note of the date and time of the phone call - you might need to refer to it later in your appeal.

DfC - Income Support
Telephone: 0800 022 4250
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

In your letter include any of the reasons in the DfC decision letter that you disagree with - and why. Give facts and examples to support what you’re saying. For example, if the DfC thinks you earn more than you do, send copies of your pay slips.

You can get help from your nearest Citizens Advice to write your letter. Tell them the date of the DfC decision letter and the 1-month deadline and they'll try to give you an appointment in time.

It's a good idea to send your letter and copies of any evidence by Royal Mail Signed For and keep the receipt - you might need to prove when you posted it and when it arrived.

What happens next

Once the DfC gets your request for a mandatory reconsideration, they’ll contact you if they need more information to support your challenge.

While you’re waiting for the mandatory reconsideration

You can get emergency expenses while waiting for an Income Support decision - for example to help pay for food or bigger items like a bed or cooker. Read more about the Discretionary Support Scheme.

You can also talk to an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice to see if there are any other benefits you could apply for.

You’ll be sent a ‘mandatory reconsideration notice’ when the DfC has looked at your claim and made a new decision. This letter will explain what they’ve decided and why.

You can make a complaint if your reconsideration is taking months to come through.

If the DfC decides to give you more Income Support, the money you’re owed will be backdated to the date of the original decision. You’ll be paid this as a one-off payment.

If the DfC decides to reduce the amount of Income Support you get, the overpayment will be backdated to the date of the original decision. Read our advice on dealing with an Income Support overpayment.

Appealing to an independent tribunal

If the DfC won’t change their decision you can take your challenge to an independent tribunal. The mandatory reconsideration notice will include information on how to appeal.

Read more about appealing an Income Support decision at an independent tribunal.

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