Challenging a housing benefit decision
If you don't agree with a housing benefit decision you might be able to get the council's decision changed.
Can I ask for a review of a housing benefit decision?
If you don't agree with your housing benefit decision you can ask for the decision to be looked at again. This is called a revision.
You might want to ask for a revision on a decision about:
- entitlement - whether you are entitled to housing benefit
- how much - the amount of benefit you are entitled to
- date - when your benefit is paid from.
How do I ask the council to review my claim?
You have to ask for a revision:
- in writing
- within one calendar month of the date on the decision letter or written explanation (if you've requested a statement of reasons).
In your letter you should state why you think the decision is wrong and provide evidence if possible.
- If your benefit was worked out on the basis that you have two children when actually you have three, you could use your child benefit award letter to show that you have three children. (If you have had a child since the decision was made, see notifying a change of circumstances.)
- If you have been told that you have been overpaid for a couple of months, because the housing benefit department thinks you were earning more money than you were, provide copies of your payslips for those months to prove your earnings.
If possible, hand the letter in and get a receipt. Keep this somewhere safe. If you cannot hand it in, take a photocopy and keep this somewhere safe with a note of the date that it was posted. Using recorded delivery means you can prove it was sent.
You can also apply for an appeal at the same time, or you can wait to see if the council changes the decision first.
What happens when the decision is looked at again?
A different person to the one who made the original decision should review your claim and look at any new information you have provided. They may ask you to provide more information.
Once the review has taken place you will receive a letter telling you whether the decision has been changed, or if the original decision stands.
The decision has not been changed - can I do anything else?If the decision hasn't been changed, you may be able to ask for an appeal. If you ask for an appeal someone who does not work for the council will look at the decision again, at an independent tribunal. If you are asking for an appeal it is a good idea to get some advice. An adviser may be able to come to the tribunal with you.
How do I appeal?
Appeal in writing using an appeal form from your local council. State on the form why you think the decision is wrong and provide evidence if possible. You must request an appeal within one month of the date on the letter telling you that the council is not changing the decision. If your application is late, it may still be accepted if you have a good reason for this, for example because you were ill.
If you asked for an appeal and a review at the same time, the appeal should go ahead automatically, but always double check with the housing benefit department that this has happened. Before the appeal goes forward you'll be asked whether you want to give any more information to help your appeal.
I have asked for an appeal - what next?
After you've applied to appeal you'll be sent a pre-hearing enquiry form. Complete this and send it back within 14 days. If you don't, your appeal will fail. If you can't get the form back in time, contact the tribunal to tell them know why the form is late.
When you fill the form in, you need to decide whether you want:
- an oral hearing, which you or someone representing you will need to attend, or
- a paper hearing, which no-one attends.
If possible ask for an oral hearing. This will give you an opportunity to put your case to the tribunal in person and answer any questions about your situation. An adviser from an advice agency near you may be able to help you prepare or represent you at the appeal hearing. You can also employ a solicitor to represent you, but you won't be able to get legal aid to pay for this.
If you need a translator or interpreter to attend to help you communicate, make sure you let the tribunal know well in advance.
What happens after I've sent in the pre-enquiry form?
You'll then need to put together evidence for your case, and send it to the tribunal. Again, you can ask an adviser to help you with this.
If you've asked for an oral hearing, you'll be notified of the date, time and place of your hearing - this will be at least 14 days away. The hearing should be held somewhere that you can get to fairly easily, and you will be able to claim travel expenses. If you can't leave your home because of a medical condition, you can ask for the hearing to be held at your home.
If you've asked for a paper hearing, you won't be told when it will take place. So make sure you send your evidence in as soon as possible.
What happens at an appeal hearing?
An appeal hearing takes place in front of a legally qualified Tribunal judge who is not employed by the housing benefit department, or the Department for Work and Pensions. The judge will look at all the facts and come to their own decision.
At an oral hearing you, or your representative, will get a chance to explain your situation. If you're representing yourself, try to explain your situation and the facts clearly and calmly. It's likely that the housing benefit department may send someone to put forward their arguments as well.
A decision will usually be made that day. If not, the tribunal will write to you with their decision.
The Tribunals Service website has more detailed information on how the appeals process works. Including what you need to do at each stage, advice on filling in the pre-enquiry form, finding a representative, preparing evidence and attending an oral hearing.
What if I disagree with the appeal decision?
If you disagree with the decision, ask for a written statement of reasons within one month of receiving the decision. If the decision is wrong, you may be able to get it set aside.
If you're still not happy with the decision, you may be able to appeal again to the Upper Tribunal. You can only appeal to the Upper Tribunal if you think that the tribunal used the law incorrectly when they made their decision. Write to the Tribunal that heard your first appeal to ask for permission to appeal. If they refuse write to the Upper Tribunal for permission instead.
What if I can't appeal?
Some decisions can't be appealed. For example, decisions about the period of time your benefit should be paid for. In this case, you may be able to go to court using judicial review. However, you can only use this to challenge the way the council made the decision, not the decision itself. Judicial review is a complicated process, and you'll need to get help from a solicitor. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to get legal aid to help with the costs.
What if I want to make a complaint?
If you're not happy with the way your claim has been handled, you can make a complaint using the council's formal complaints process. For example, you may wish to complain if council staff have been rude or uncooperative, or have taken an unreasonably long time to deal with your case.
If you're not satisfied by the council's response, you may be able to take your complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.