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Appealing a Housing Benefit decision at a tribunal

This advice applies to Scotland

If you disagree with your Housing Benefit decision and you’ve asked your local council for an appeal, a tribunal will look at the decision.

A tribunal will also look at your Housing Benefit decision if you’ve asked your local council to review their decision and they:

  • didn’t change their decision

  • changed the decision and it made your situation worse - like reducing your Housing Benefit 

Tribunals are independent from your local council, so they might change the council’s decision. They’re run by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and overseen by a judge.

Check if your appeal has already started

Your local council might already have sent your appeal to the tribunal. It depends what you asked them to do when you challenged the decision.

If you asked the council for an ‘appeal’ 

The council should send the paperwork straight to the tribunal - this will start your appeal to the tribunal. The tribunal will write to tell you they’ve received your appeal.

If you don’t hear from the tribunal or the council send the paperwork back to you, tell them you’ve already appealed so they should send it to the tribunal.

If you asked the council for a ‘review’ or ‘reconsideration’ 

You’ll need to start a new appeal. Check the council’s letter to find out how to appeal - they might want you to fill in a form or write a letter. You’ll need to explain why you’re appealing and send the right evidence - find out what to include in your appeal.

Keep a copy of the form or letter, and ask the Post Office for free proof of postage - you might need to prove when you sent it.

Filling in the tribunal form

When the tribunal get your appeal, they'll send you a form asking if you want to be there when the judge looks at your appeal - this is known as an ‘oral hearing’. 

You should go to the hearing, if you can. You’ll have more chance to explain your case and can answer any questions the judge might have. 

If you don’t go to the hearing, the tribunal will decide based on the evidence you've sent - this is called a ‘paper hearing’.

You need to tell the tribunal what you want to do within 2 weeks. Send the form to the address on the form and ask the Post Office for free proof of postage - you might need to prove when you sent it.

Sending evidence to the tribunal

The council should pass on any evidence you’ve given them - you don’t need to send it again.

The tribunal will send you a copy of all the evidence they’ve got - called an ‘appeal bundle’. If someone like a Citizens Advice adviser is helping with your appeal and has told the council they’re your representative, the tribunal might send the appeal bundle to them instead. 

Check the appeal bundle has all the evidence you gave the council. 

You should send the tribunal:

  • any evidence that’s missing from the appeal bundle - explain that the council didn’t send it

  • any new evidence you didn’t send the council

Send the evidence within a month after you get the appeal bundle. You should still send the evidence even if you've missed the deadline. Make sure you explain why you've sent your evidence late - the tribunal will still look at it if they agree you couldn’t send it sooner. 

Send the evidence to the address on the appeal bundle.

It’s important to send any new evidence before the hearing - if you take it with you on the day, the judge could reschedule the tribunal so they have time to read it.

If the council change their decision before the hearing

They’ll write to you and the tribunal to say they’ve changed their decision.

If the change makes your situation better, the tribunal will cancel the hearing - known as a ‘lapsed appeal’. The letter from the council will tell you what to do if you’re not happy with the new decision and still want to appeal.

If the change makes your situation worse - for example if it reduces your Housing Benefit - the hearing will go ahead as planned. You should still go the hearing on the day the tribunal told you.

If your appeal is cancelled

The tribunal might cancel your appeal if you don't do something they ask for, like send them a certain document. They might also cancel it for another reason - for example if they don't think you can win. If they do this, they’ll write to tell you the appeal has been ‘struck out’.

If your appeal was cancelled because you didn’t do something the tribunal asked you to do, like send a document in time, this is called being ‘struck out’ for ‘failure to comply with a direction.’ You can apply for the appeal to be looked at again - this is known as getting an appeal ‘reinstated’.

You need to ask within a month after the tribunal wrote to tell you about the cancellation. If you need more time, explain in your letter why you missed the 1 month deadline.

Write to the tribunal and tell them:

  • your full name and address

  • your National Insurance number

  • the decision you’re appealing 

  • the date your appeal was cancelled

  • why you didn’t do the thing the tribunal asked for - if this was the reason your appeal was cancelled

  • why your appeal shouldn’t have been cancelled - if it was for another reason

  • why you think your appeal should be reinstated

Send it to the address on the letter that told you your appeal was struck out. Ask the Post Office for free proof of postage - you might need to prove when you sent your letter.

If the tribunal agree, they’ll write to tell you when the new hearing will be. 

If the tribunal don’t agree to reopen your appeal, you might be able to challenge the decision in a different tribunal, called the Upper Tribunal. 

You can only do this if the first tribunal got the law wrong or made a mistake - called an ‘error of law’. It’s difficult to know if an error of law has been made, so contact your nearest Citizens Advice to find out if you can challenge the tribunal’s decision. 

If the Upper Tribunal agree to reopen your appeal, the hearing will go ahead as planned.

Going to the hearing

The hearing won’t be as formal as other court hearings and should only take about 40 minutes. You can bring some notes with you to remind you what you’d like to say. You should also bring any paperwork the tribunal sent you.

You don’t need a solicitor but you can take someone with you. If you want them to talk for you at the hearing, you’ll need to tell the tribunal they’re your ‘representative’. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you want an adviser to speak for you at the hearing.

You can find out more about what happens at the hearing and get help with the cost of travelling on GOV.UK.

Finding out the tribunal’s decision

If you go to the hearing, you’ll usually find out the decision on the day. They’ll also give you a written copy before you leave. If the judge needs longer to decide, or you’re not at the hearing, they’ll write to tell you their decision.

If you disagree with the decision

You can only challenge the tribunal's decision if they've got the law wrong, or if they've made a mistake.

The tribunal will send you information on how to challenge their decision with your decision letter. It’s free to challenge.

You'll need to start the appeal within a month of your decision letter.

If the tribunal agrees to your appeal, you'll have to apply to another tribunal - this is called the Upper Tribunal. You'll get details of how to appeal with your decision letter.

You'll probably need specialist help to challenge the tribunal's decision. Get help from your nearest Citizens Advice.

If it’s been nearly a month since your decision letter

Start the appeal as soon as you can. You can get advice while you’re waiting for the tribunal to reply - and you can change your mind if you decide not to appeal later on.

You can start the appeal by asking the tribunal for a ‘statement of reasons’ - this is a letter explaining the decision. 

Include in your letter:

  • the date your appeal hearing happened

  • the date of the decision - you’ll find this on the decision letter

  • that you’re asking for a statement of reasons

Send it to the address on the letter that told you the first tribunal’s decision. Ask the Post Office for free proof of postage - you might need to prove when you sent it.

It can take a few months to get the statement of reasons, so you should get advice while you’re waiting.

If the decision was more than a month ago

You might still be able to appeal if there’s a strong reason you couldn’t do it earlier. It can be hard to get the tribunal to let you appeal, so it’s best to get help. Ask your nearest Citizens Advice to help you ask for a new appeal. 

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