Challenging a Housing Benefit decision
If you receive a letter or an explanation from the housing benefit department that you do not agree with, there are things you can do. This page tells you what you have to do to get the decision looked at again.
This page gives a basic overview of the review and appeal process. You can get further advice about challenging a housing benefit decision from Shelter Cymru. Call our expert housing advice helpline on 0345 075 5005 or email our housing advice team. If you prefer, visit advice near you to find a local Shelter Cymru advice surgery where you can talk to someone in person. Remember to take your paperwork with you.
Can I ask the council to look at the decision again?
If you have received a letter or an explanation from the Housing Benefit department that you do not agree with, you can ask for the decision to be looked at again. This is called a ‘reconsideration’ or ‘revision’.
You might want to ask for a reconsideration on a decision about:
- whether you are entitled to housing benefit
- the amount of benefit you are entitled to
- the date your benefit is paid from
- if an overpayment amount is correct or if it should be recovered from you
- whether your benefit is paid to you or your landlord.
How do I ask for a reconsideration?
You have to ask for a reconsideration:
- in writing, and
- 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. For example:
- if your benefit was calculated on the basis that you have two children when actually you have three, you could take along your child benefit award letter, which will show that you have three children (if you have had a child since the decision was made, see the section on Changes in your circumstances)
- if you have received a letter saying that you have been overpaid for a couple of months because the housing benefit department thinks that you were earning more money than you were, you should provide copies of your payslips for those months.
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.
You can also apply for an appeal at the same time (see ‘the decision has not been changed’, below), 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 decision should look at the decision and any new information you have provided. You may be asked to provide more information at this time.
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, a Judge who does not work for the council will look at the decision again at an independent First-tier 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?
You have to ask for an appeal in writing. Ask your housing benefit department to give you a form if they have one. You will have to state on the form or your letter 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 requested an appeal at the same time as you requested a reconsideration, the appeal should go ahead automatically, although check with the housing benefit department that this is the case. Before the appeal takes place, you will 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 sent in your application for an appeal, you will be sent a pre-hearing enquiry form and the appeal paperwork. You need to complete the form and send it back within 14 days. If you don’t return the form in this time, the appeal process will end. If you can’t get the form back in time, it’s very important to contact the tribunal and let them know why.
When you fill in the form, 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, as this will give you an opportunity to put your case to the tribunal in person and answer any questions about your situation.
You also need to decide whether you want someone to represent you. It’s a good idea to ask an adviser from Shelter Cymru, Citizens Advice Bureau or a welfare rights agency to come with you and speak on your behalf, as they will have experience of attending tribunals and will be able to present your case in the best light.
You can employ a solicitor to represent you, but you won’t be able to get legal aid to pay for representation at the hearing. 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 will then 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 reasonably accessible to you, and you will be able to claim travel expenses. If you can’t attend due to 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 tribunal judge will look at all the facts again and come to their own decision.
If you chose an oral hearing, you or your representative will get a chance to explain your situation. If you’re representing yourself, try not to be nervous or emotional, and present the facts to the tribunal as clearly as you can.
The Housing Benefit department may send someone to put forward their arguments as well.
When will I get a decision?
You can usually wait for the tribunal judge to make their decision that day. If not, they will usually write to you with their decision within seven days.
What if I don’t agree with the appeal decision?
If you don’t agree with the decision of the First-Tier tribunal, you can appeal to the Upper tribunal. The Upper tribunal judge is the equivalent of a high court judge and specialises in benefits law. You can only appeal to the Upper tribunal if you believe that the First Tier tribunal judge did not apply the law properly when making their decision. You should only try to do this once you have taken advice from a specialist adviser, such as a solicitor, housing law caseworker or a welfare rights officer.
What if I can’t appeal?
Some decisions can’t be appealed, for example decisions about how frequently your benefit is paid. In this case, you may be able to go to court using the judicial review process. However, you can only use judicial review 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 – there may be information about this on your council’s website, or you can ask the council for further details. 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 Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.