Don’t dither on appeal

To appeal against benefits decisions clients
need to be quick off the mark, writes Gary Vaux.

Nothing ever seems to stand still within the
benefit system. No sooner does working families tax credit replace
family credit, it too gets replaced (in April 2003) with a working
tax credit topped up by a child tax credit.

Benefits Agency becomes Job Centre Plus and Pensions Service. But
whatever changes are made to the structure and names, some things
remain constant. Unfortunately, one of those is the quality of
decision-making on benefits.

It is
important then that social care staff are aware of what should be
done to help people get the correct decision, or at least one that
they are satisfied with.

decision issued by the Department for Work and Pensions, the Inland
Revenue and the local authority housing benefit or council tax
benefit sections should be sent to you in writing. In these
letters, an appeal rights should be explained.

It is
crucial that advisers are aware of the very strict time limits that
apply when a client wants to challenge a decision that they are
unhappy with. If the time limit is missed – usually one month from
the date of the decision letter – the client will have to point to
some exceptional circumstances for a late request to be

your client is unhappy with the decision when they receive it, they

– Ask
for written reasons. This extends the one-month time limit by 14
days. There are some benefits, such as incapacity benefit and
retirement pension, where written reasons cannot be

– Ask
for a revision, in writing, with extra supporting information. If
the revision request fails, you then have another month to make an

Appeal in writing, ideally on form GL24, available from social
security offices, or form WFTC/AP, available from the Inland
Revenue. When the department that made the original decision
receives the appeal, they should look at their decision again
before sending it off to the independent appeals service. If they
change the decision in a way that is favourable to the client, the
original appeal will lapse. Many people do not realise that, and
think that their appeal will still go ahead on the disputed
matters. The client will actually need to appeal again.

Sometimes, your client may need
to have a decision looked at again, even if some time has passed
since the original decision. One obvious example is a person who
has been awarded a rate of disability living allowance that was
right at the time of award, but the person’s care or mobility needs
have increased, and you feel a higher rate of DLA is

Outside the time limits for a
revision or appeal, you can ask for a “supersession” if:

– The
circumstances have changed since the original award.

There was a mistake about the facts of the case or it was made in
ignorance of the facts.

– The
original decision was legally wrong.

supersession can be requested at any time but it normally only
takes effect from the date you ask for it. If the supersession
request is refused, there is then a right of appeal as described

It is
also possible for some appeals to be struck out by the appeals
service because they are “without merit” such as where someone
appeals against the rate of income support they have been awarded
because the price of cat food has gone up. CC

Gary Vaux is head of money
advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries in
person. If you have a question to be answered in Welfare Rights,
please write to him c/o Community Care


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