Problems with benefit and tax credit claims
If you have a problem with benefits, tax credits or national insurance there may be something you can do about it. You may be dissatisfied because you think a decision is wrong. You may also feel you have received a poor service from the agencies you have been dealing with.
If you think that you are entitled to benefit or tax credit, have made a claim and been told you cannot get anything (or will get less than you think you should), you can challenge the decision – see the heading Challenging a benefit or tax credit decision.
If you are unhappy with the service you have received from the benefits office, HM Revenue and Customs, National Insurance Contributions Office, Tax Credit Office, Jobcentre Plus office, local authority or Pensions Service, you can complain. You may have had problems getting through on the telephone, feel that staff have been unhelpful, been given incorrect advice, or had other difficulties getting your case dealt with. All the agencies which deal with benefits have standards of service and you can complain if they fail to maintain these – see the heading Making a complaint about benefit and tax credit service standards. By complaining you can help improve services for the future. In a few cases, you may also be entitled to compensation if you have lost out financially because of mistakes or poor service.
Remember, you can complain about the standard of service you have received when claiming a benefit or tax credit at the same time as challenging your individual benefit or tax credit decision.
Challenging a benefit or tax credit decision
If you are dissatisfied with a benefit, tax credit or national insurance decision there are several steps you can take. You can:
- try to get more information – see under Get more information about a decision, below.
- ask for the decision to be looked at again. This may lead to the decision being changed – see the heading Get the decision looked at again
- you can also appeal against the decision, either straight away or after the decision has been reconsidered – see the heading Appeal against the decision.
Get more information about a decision
Benefit, tax credit and national insurance decisions are sent to you by letter. Once you get the decision letter, you can ask the office for further explanation over the phone or if you visit the office in person. The letter will tell you what you can do. To get someone to explain the letter, you should contact the office that sent it.
If your first language isn't English, the office should provide adequate interpretation facilities to explain their decision - see under When you should complain, Interpretation facilities. Also, if you have a disability, the explanation must be provided in a way that is accessible to you – see under heading When to complain, Inadequate information.
I've got learning difficulties and I can't read very well. It looks like they've stopped my benefits but I don't understand the letter they've sent me. What can I do?
Try to phone the office which sent the letter. Explain the problem to them. They should explain the letter to you on the phone and also they should write to you again in easy English. They should tell you what to do next. You can always get help from an adviser, for example, at your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
If you don’t understand a decision about benefits or tax credits, you can also consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens’ Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
Get the decision looked at again
If you disagree with a benefit or tax credit decision, you can try to get it changed. You can do this whether or not you have asked the office to explain it. You can:-
- ask for the decision to be looked at again, or
- you can appeal. Not all decisions have the right of appeal, but the decision letter will tell you if you have this right. For more information on what appealing involves, see the heading Appeal against the decision.
For benefits you have one month from the date you receive the decision letter to ask the office to look at it again, or to appeal against it. If you contact the office about disputing a decision after one month, they may still be able to change it. Also, if there were particular reasons why you could not contact the office within one month of your letter - for example, you were in hospital, it may be possible for the one month time limit to be extended.
For tax credits, you can ask the office to look at the decision again at any time during the period of your award, or, if they have made a mistake, within five years of the end of the tax year concerned. However, if the problem is the result of a change in circumstances that has increased your award, you may not get all of the increase unless you get in touch with HM Revenue and Customs within three months.
When you ask for a decision to be looked at again, it will be reconsidered, usually by a different member of staff. The office may ask you for more information. If they do, you should provide it as soon as possible.
If the decision can be changed, the office will send you a new decision. If it cannot be changed, they will send you a letter to tell you. If you get a revised decision and you still think it is wrong, you can ask for it to be looked at a third time, but unless you have new information it is unlikely to be changed at this stage.
If a benefit or tax credit decision has the right of appeal, you can consider appealing against it. If the decision has been looked at again but you are not happy with the result, you may be able to appeal at this point. The letter you have received with your decision will tell you if you have a right of appeal.
If you are thinking of asking for a decision to be looked at again or of appealing against it, you should get expert advice. This is because there might be a risk that your benefits or tax credits could be reduced or even stopped. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau should be able to help. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
Appeal against the decision
An appeal means that your benefit or tax credit decision will be looked at by an independent tribunal, called the First-Tier Tribunal. This is a panel of up to three people who are experts on benefits. It always includes someone who is legally qualified. The tribunal members are completely separate from the offices which make benefit, tax credit and national insurance decisions. The tribunal cannot change the law and it cannot consider changes of circumstances which took place since the decision.
If you have the right to appeal against a decision, you will be told this in the decision letter. If you cannot appeal against a decision you may still be able to ask for it to be looked at again (see under heading Get the decision looked at again). You have one month from the date you were sent the decision letter in which to appeal a benefit decision and 30 days to appeal a tax credit decision. You can get this time limit extended by 14 days if you ask for a written statement of the reasons for the decision. Also, if there are special circumstances which meant you could not appeal within one month - for example, you were in hospital or there was a postal strike, it may be possible for a late appeal to be accepted. You should explain the reasons for your late appeal on the appeal form. A late appeal can only be accepted within 13 months of the receipt of the decision letter. For a late tax credit appeal, it is a year and 30 days from the date you received the decision.
How to appeal
Preparing for an appeal is very difficult and going to a tribunal can be daunting. If you want help with making an appeal or going to a tribunal you should contact an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
You must make your appeal in writing. You should try to appeal on the form provided by the agency which made the decision, if there is one. This will help you give all the information that is needed. You can find the forms as follows:-
- for benefits (except Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit) use leaflet GL24 ‘If you think our decision is wrong’. You can get this from the benefits office, Jobcentre Plus office or the Pensions Service, HM Revenue and Customs offices or from the website www.dwp.gov.uk
- for tax credits, use leaflet WFTC/AP ‘How to appeal against a tax credit decision or award’. You can get this from the Tax Credit Office or from the website www.hmrc.gov.uk
- for national insurance, use leaflet CA 82, ‘If you think our decision is wrong’. You can get this from HM Revenue and Customs National Insurance Contributions Office or from the website www.hmrc.gov.uk
- for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, the local authority may have a form that you can use, or it may accept appeals in any written form that includes all the necessary information. You should contact your local authority benefits department to find out how to make an appeal in your area.
When you appeal, the office which made the decision will look at the decision again in case it can be changed straight away. If this happens they will let you know. For benefits, your appeal may stop at this point, or, if the new decision is not in your favour, the appeal may carry on against the new decision. For tax credits, an offer can be made to settle the appeal by agreeing to a revised decision, but you do not have to accept this.
If the decision is not changed, the appeal is passed on to HM Courts and Tribunals Service. This is the agency that organizes appeals. You will be sent a form so that you can provide more information and evidence to support your appeal. You must complete this form within fourteen days or your appeal will not continue.
You will be asked if you want your appeal dealt with as an oral or paper hearing.
An oral hearing means that the tribunal will meet in public and you can attend. You can also bring a representative or your representative can attend without you. The tribunal can ask you questions, you can call witnesses and all the evidence will be considered.
You can get help with the costs of attending an oral hearing - for example, travel costs, childminding or loss of earnings. If you're disabled, the hearing should be held in a place that is accessible to you.
A paper hearing means that the tribunal will consider all the evidence in private and you do not attend. If you choose a paper hearing you should send as much information and evidence as possible. You will not be told the date of the paper hearing. The Tribunals Service will send you the result in writing.
What happens after an appeal
After the appeal has been heard, you will be sent a letter that explains the tribunal's decision. If you want more details about the reasons for the decision and the tribunal’s findings, you can ask for this by contacting HM Courts and Tribunals Service within one month.
If you disagree with the decision of the First-Tier Tribunal, you may be able to make a further appeal to the Upper Tribunal. They are independent lawyers expert in benefit law. You can only appeal to the Upper Tribunal if you disagree with the First-Tier Tribunal’s interpretation of the law. You cannot appeal if you think that the Fist-Tier Tribunal’s conclusions about the facts of your case are wrong.
Appealing to the Upper Tribunal is only possible if it involves the interpretation of the law. If you want help with your appeal, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens’ Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
Making a complaint about benefit and tax credit service standards
You have the right to expect a reasonable standard of service from the people dealing with benefits, tax credits and national insurance. If you have received poor service or have been disadvantaged because of errors or a slow response, you should consider complaining.
Service includes things such as meeting target times for dealing with claims and providing interpretation facilities. Most agencies that deal with benefits, including local authorities, will have a charter or statement of standards of service that sets out and what you can expect. You will be able to get this from their offices or websites.
You can complain whether or not you have made a claim. However, if you have claimed a benefit or tax credit and you think a decision is wrong, you will not be able to change the decision by making a complaint. You will have to challenge the decision as well, which involves a different, separate process – see the heading Challenging a benefit or tax credit decision.
If you make a complaint it may result in:-
- an apology for what has happened
- an explanation of how the problem occurred
- a promise that the problem will be put right, if this is possible
- a change in procedure – this will help other people in the future, and could help you if you have to use the same office again
- financial compensation, although this only applies in certain circumstances – see the heading Compensation.
When should you complain
You should consider complaining if there is any aspect of the service that caused you problems and where the standard of your care was unacceptable. You do not need to have made a claim for benefit to claim about the standard of service. Problems experienced may include:-
- rudeness. This could include not being treated with respect or failing to get an answer to reasonable requests
- being given incorrect or misleading advice or not being informed of your rights or entitlements. If you have lost out financially you may be able to get compensation
- a long delay before your claim or enquiry was dealt with
- mistakes - such as being paid the wrong amount of money or being told that your claim form or other papers have been lost
- difficulty contacting the office, whether by phone, letter or in person
- being treated unfairly because of your race, sex, sexuality, disability, religious belief or politics.
It's against the law for you to be discriminated against because of your sex, sexuality, religion, race or disability and, in Northern Ireland, because of your politics. Also, the benefits agency may have to follow a policy which says they aren't allowed to discriminate against you for other reasons. For example, if you're claiming Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has a policy which says it will not discriminate against you because of your caring responsibilities or if you have HIV. If you think you have been discriminated against, you can make a complaint about this.
Discrimination may also be involved if you are refused interpretation facilities, which are part of the standard of service you should be offered – see under Interpretation facilities.
For more information about race discrimination, see Taking action about race discrimination.
For more information about sex discrimination, see Taking action about sex discrimination.
For more information about disability discrimination, see Disability discrimination.
In England, Wales and Scotland, for more information about discrimination because of sexuality, see Discrimination because of sexuality.
In England, Wales and Scotland, for more information about discrimination because of religion or belief, see Discrimination because of religion or belief.
You should consider complaining if you have had to wait too long for a claim to be decided, for a reward to be changed, or for an explanation to be given. Organisations which administer benefits or tax credits usually have target times for deciding a claim. These may be on display in the local office, there may be a leaflet about their target standards of service, or you can ask to see them.
You should consider complaining if an office has been inefficient. If benefit or tax credit case papers are lost, payments stop by mistake or you are under or overpaid benefit or tax credits because the office has made a mistake, you should complain. Even if you are repaid the correct balance of an underpayment, you may lose out financially and be inconvenienced by not receiving the correct money for a period of time. Overpayments which have to be repaid can also cause financial difficulty and distress.
For more information in England, Wales and Scotland about overpayment of tax credits, see Overpayment of tax credits in Benefits fact sheets.
If you are not satisfied with the advice or information you have been given by a government office or the local authority, you should consider making a complaint. For example, you may not have been told about a benefit you could have applied for, or you may have been given incorrect information about your national insurance record. Information must be provided in a way that is accessible to you, for example, in Braille or in large print if you need it because of your disability.
If your first language is not English, and the office does not provide adequate interpretation facilities, you should make a complaint. You have a right to help with claim forms and letters if you do not speak English as your first language. You may have a claim for discrimination if interpretation facilities are not available (see under Discrimination, above).
If you are not sure about whether you have grounds for making a complaint, or if you are not sure whether to complain or to challenge a decision, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
In certain circumstances you may be able to get compensation. If you have had problems such as excessive delay, wrong advice or financial loss you should not lose out financially or suffer undue distress. However, these payments are discretionary, so you do not have a right to a compensation payment.
If you think that you should receive compensation, you should contact an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
Where to make a complaint
You should make your complaint to the office that caused the problem. This could be the office that dealt with your claim, or it could be a different office where you made an enquiry and got advice. Benefits, tax credits and national insurance are administered by:-
- for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, your local authority (the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Rates Collection Agency in Northern Ireland)
- for other benefits (except Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance), the benefits office, job centre or Job Centre Plus, unless you are over 60
- for Pension Credit, Retirement Pension, and other benefits and social fund payments for people over 60, the Pension Service
- for national insurance contributions, to the HM Revenue and Customs National Insurance Contributions Office
- for tax credits, to HM Revenue and Customs Tax Credit Office
- for Child Benefit or Guardian’s Allowance, HM Revenue and Customs Child Benefit Office
- for medical examinations for benefits, Medical Services of the Department for Work and Pensions.
You may be able to complain informally by talking to a manager at the relevant local office, or just to another member of staff. If this does not resolve the problem, it may be necessary to put the complaint in writing. Most organisations have their own internal complaints procedure that should be available on request. There will usually be a customer service manager or equivalent who acts as a point of contact for complaints. There will then be further formal stages for dealing with the complaint.
If you are still not happy after you have gone through the internal complaints procedure, you may be able to complain to an independent organisation.
Taking the complaint further
You may find that use of the internal complaints procedure of an agency does not produce a satisfactory result. There are external, independent procedures for complaining about public services, but you can only use these if you use the internal complaints system first.
If your complaint is about a benefit run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), you can ask the Independent Case Examiner Service to look into it. For more information about this service, visit their website at: www.ind-case-exam.org.uk, or phone them on 0845 606 0777.
In England, Wales and Scotland, complaints about Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit can be investigated by the Local Government Ombudsman or Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. In Northern Ireland, complaints about Housing Benefit can be investigated by the Northern Ireland Ombudsman.
Complaints about national insurance and tax credits can be investigated by the Adjudicator's Office. For more information, visit their website at: www.adjudicatorsoffice.gov.uk, or phone them on 0300 057 111.
Complaints about other benefits can be investigated by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman or, in Northern Ireland, by the Northern Ireland Ombudsman. To use the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman for a benefit complaint, you will first have to contact your MP. You can also complain about tax credits to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, but the Ombudsman would usually expect the complaint to have been investigated by the Adjudicator for HM Revenue and Customs first.
For more information about the ombudsman, in England, see How to use an ombudsman in England, in Wales, see How to use an ombudsman in Wales, in Northern Ireland, see How to use an ombudsman in Northern Ireland or in Scotland, see How to use an ombudsman in Scotland.
If you want help in contacting your MP, you can ask an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens’ Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
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