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Challenging a JSA decision - mandatory reconsideration

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

You should ask the Department for Communities (DfC) to look at your claim again if you think a decision about your Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) is wrong.

Asking them to change the decision is called a 'mandatory reconsideration'. It's free to do and you don't need a solicitor or any other legal help.

When to ask for a mandatory reconsideration

You’re likely to get the decision changed in your favour if, for example:

  • you’ve been refused JSA but have evidence you’re entitled to it
  • your JSA has stopped because you didn’t keep to your jobseeker's agreement, but you had a good reason
  • the DfC thinks you’ve been overpaid but you have evidence to show you were paid the right amount

If you’ve been refused JSA, you should check you can get JSA. If it’s clear you’re not entitled, it won’t be worth asking for a mandatory reconsideration. For example, if you have over £16,000 in savings or you work for more than 16 hours a week.

The DfC won’t take into account things like if your JSA payment doesn’t give you enough to live off or you don’t want to go to the Jobs and Benefits Office. They’ll only change the decision if they got something wrong or you had a good reason for not keeping to your jobseeker's agreement.

If you’ve been sanctioned

You’ll still need to ask for a mandatory reconsideration, but first you should check if you can challenge the sanction and the evidence you’ll need.

Check you have evidence

The DfC will usually only change a decision if you have evidence to prove why it was wrong.

Check if you have any evidence to send with your mandatory reconsideration. What you’ll need will depend on why you’re challenging the decision.

If you reported a change in circumstances

You might have been paid the wrong amount of JSA 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 JSA 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 or their tenancy agreement. 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 - if 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
  • utility bills in just your name

If you’re from the EEA

Your JSA decision can be wrong if the DfC doesn’t think you have a right to claim as a:

  • national of the European Economic Area (EEA)
  • partner of an EEA national - that is, married or in civil partnership
  • parent of an EEA national in compulsory full-time education

You can check the countries in the EEA on GOV.UK.

This is a complex area, so it’s best to get help.

If you have a permanent right to reside

You should send the DfC evidence that you have a right to reside because you’ve worked in the UK for at least 5 years in a row. For example, P45s, P60s or payslips from this time.

If you were employed in the UK before you claimed JSA

You should be entitled to JSA for 6 months. Send the DfC evidence of the work you were doing and what you were paid. For example P45s, P60s or payslips.

If you’ve failed the genuine prospect of work test

Send the DfC evidence if your circumstances have changed and you’ve a good chance of being employed. This could be:

  • a certificate to show you’ve completed a training course
  • a certificate for a new qualification, for example a GNVQ
  • details of any future job interviews

If you’re separated from an EEA national

If you’re separated but still married to or in a civil partnership with an EEA national, send the DfC evidence of your ex-partner’s work. This could be P45s, P60s or payslips.

If you don’t want to ask your ex-partner for this evidence, you can call the DfC and ask them to get this information directly. They’ll be able to access your ex-partner's DfC and HMRC records.

DfC - Benefits freephone number
Telephone: 0800 022 4250
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
Textphone: 028 9446 5905

Calls to 0800 numbers are free from landlines and mobiles if you're calling from the UK.

If your child is in full-time education

You might be entitled to JSA if you’re the parent of a child in compulsory full-time education. This includes if they’re at primary or secondary school.

You or the child’s other parent must have been a worker in the UK while the child lived in the UK.

Send the DfC:

  • a copy of your child’s birth certificate
  • a letter from their school confirming they’re in full-time education
  • proof you or the other parent have worked, for example P45s or payslips

Asking for a mandatory reconsideration

If you're asking for a mandatory reconsideration because you’ve been sanctioned, you can do this at any time. Otherwise, you have 1 month from the date of the decision to ask for one. You’ll find the date at the top of the letter that told you the decision. 

If you've missed the 1 month deadline it's still worth sending your mandatory reconsideration. You'll need to do this within 13 months of the date on your decision letter.

If you haven’t been able to find any evidence, don’t delay sending your mandatory reconsideration. Send any evidence you find later by Royal Mail Signed For.

If the DfC didn’t give you a reason for the decision

The letter that told you the decision should include the reasons why - called a ‘written statement of reasons’. If it doesn’t, you should call the DfC and ask for one. 

You’ll then have 1 month and 14 days from the date at the top of the decision letter to ask for a mandatory reconsideration. If you don’t get the written statement of reasons within 1 month of the decision letter, you’ll have 14 days from the date the written statement of reasons was sent.

DfC - Benefits freephone number
Telephone: 0800 022 4250
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
Textphone: 028 9446 5905

Calls to 0800 numbers are free from landlines and mobiles if you're calling from the UK.

If you’re not sure if your decision letter includes a statement of reasons, you should send your mandatory reconsideration within the 1-month deadline. This is because the DfC might argue that they included reasons in the decision letter, so won’t extend the deadline. 

If you’ve missed the 1-month deadline

You can still ask for a mandatory reconsideration, as long as it’s within 13 months of the date on your decision letter.

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

Write to the DfC and explain why you missed the 1-month deadline. Send this letter to the address on your JSA decision letter.

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 JSA - 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 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:

Send it to the address on the decision letter.

It’s best to send a letter to the DfC to ask for a reconsideration so you have everything in writing.

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 think you’ve been working more than 16 hours a week, send timesheets to show you work less. Or if they think you earn too much to get JSA, send pay slips to show them how much you earn.

If you've been sanctioned for not doing something, explain:

  • why you didn’t do it
  • what you did to tell the JBO at the time - and if you didn’t, why not
  • what you did to sort out the problem - and if you didn’t do anything, why not
  • the impact the problem had on you - for example, if it caused you anxiety

Whatever the reason for your sanction, tell the DfC if you’ve recently experienced bullying, harassment, abuse or homelessness. This could be at home, in the workplace or elsewhere. The DfC will consider the impact it had on you and it might help your case.

Add your contact details so that the DfC can call you if they have any questions. Include if you’ll have any problems getting to the phone, for example because it’s difficult for you to move around.

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.

Send your letter to the address on your JSA decision letter. It’s a good idea to send it 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.

If it's just a few days until the 1-month deadline, you should call the DfC. Make a note of the date and the time you call and the name of the person you spoke to - you might need to refer to it later in your appeal.

DfC - Benefits freephone number
Telephone: 0800 022 4250
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
Textphone: 028 9446 5905

Calls to 0800 numbers are free from landlines and mobiles if you're calling from the UK.

What happens next

The DfC will contact you if they need more information or evidence to support your challenge.

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.

It usually takes about 14 working days for the mandatory reconsideration to arrive. If after 1 month it hasn't arrived, you can call the DfC to check it's being looked at. You can make a complaint if it’s taking months to come through.

While you’re waiting for the mandatory reconsideration

You can get help while waiting for a JSA decision - for example to help pay for food or bigger items like a bed or cooker. Check what help you could get.

If you’ve been sanctioned, you might be able to get some money to pay for essentials like heating. This is called a ‘hardship payment’. Check if you can get a hardship payment.

If you're worried you might be sanctioned again because you're struggling to keep to your jobseeker's agreement, you can ask to change it

If the DfC changes their decision, your payments will be backdated to the date your JSA was stopped or reduced.

Appealing to an independent tribunal

If the DfC won’t change their decision you should take your challenge to a tribunal. It’s free to do and because the tribunal is independent they might disagree with the DfC’s decision.

The mandatory reconsideration notice will include information on how to appeal.

Appeal a JSA decision at an independent tribunal

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