Challenging a disability benefit decision
Information for how to appeal a Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) decision. You can use this information if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, some of the names of institutions are different but the law and the process is the same.
Scotland has its own separate system for applying for and appealing disability benefits.
You should receive a decision from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) about eight to 12 weeks after your form has been received.
If your application is successful, the letter will include which components you’ve been awarded and how much you’ll receive, the date of your first payment and how long your award is for.
If you're unhappy with the decision
If your claim has been unsuccessful or you are unhappy with the amount you have been awarded, you can ask DWP to look at the decision again by asking for a mandatory reconsideration. You can ask for a mandatory reconsideration by writing a letter or filling in and posting the form (CRMR1).
If you’re still not happy with the decision after the mandatory reconsideration, you can appeal against it. You can only appeal if you’ve requested a mandatory reconsideration and have received a mandatory reconsideration notice. You’ll need the notice to appeal.
You have one month from the date of the mandatory reconsideration notice to appeal, although late appeals are allowed in some circumstances.
When you appeal a disability benefit decision, you’re appealing to the tribunal. The tribunal is independent of the DWP and will be a panel of three people who will consider all the evidence and make a decision. Around half of all appeals are successful, usually because the tribunal take a different view of the evidence to the DWP. New evidence can also be crucial in getting decisions changed, but don’t wait until you have new supporting evidence to appeal as you can send it in later. Find out more about the supporting evidence and letters you can include for DLA and PIP.
You can appeal in two ways. If you live in England or Wales, you can appeal against a DLA or PIP decision online. You can find out more about the appeals process here. The form asks for some basic details about you and your reasons for appealing. If you can’t do it online, you can fill in a paper form and post it to His Majesties’ Courts and Tribunal Service. In Northern Ireland, you have to fill in the paper form.
If you miss the time limit for appealing but it’s been less than 13 months since the decision, you can make a late appeal. The tribunal will decide whether to accept your late appeal. There are lots of reasons why you might need to make a late appeal. Your late appeal will usually be accepted if you give a good reason. However, saying that you didn’t realise there was a one-month time limit to appeal isn’t accepted as a reason.
You will need the mandatory reconsideration notice to appeal. If you appeal online, you can enter the details of the notice into the online form. If you fill in the paper form, you need to include a photocopy of the notice with the form when you post it off. Always keep the original versions of any documents you send to, or receive from, DWP, and make photocopies to send.
Most of the questions are straightforward, but there are some sections you’ll need to think about in more detail.
Section 5: your reasons for appealing
This is where you write why you disagree with the DWP decision. You could write something very short like, “The decision maker has underestimated my child’s needs and not considered all the evidence.”
However, what you write here is what the tribunal will read in advance, so it’s a good idea to try and write something a bit more detailed, especially if you’re not going to attend the hearing. See our information on DLA and PIP for ideas.
Section 6: your appeal hearing
This is where you choose what kind of hearing you want. You can decide whether or not to attend the hearing. If you tick the box, ‘I do not want to take part in the hearing,’ the tribunal will look at all the paperwork and make its decision, without having a hearing. If you choose this option you will need to send in as much evidence as you can, and perhaps send something explaining your reasons directly to the tribunal once you have the appeal bundle. Appeals decided on the papers have less chance of winning.
If you want to attend, you’ll be asked what type of hearing you want. You can tick more than one box. If you have a face-to-face hearing, you’ll go to a tribunal venue and sit in a room with the tribunal. Video and telephone hearings take place remotely.
Section 7: communication support
You can use this section to ask for assistance with communication, such as a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter, other language interpreter, or palantypist.
Section 8: Availability
This section of the appeal form asks about your availability (if there are any dates you can’t make). The hearing probably won’t be for several months so don’t worry too much about any commitments you have now.
It’s important to include certain dates you’ll be out of the country, dates of important hospital appointments, days of the week you can’t make or if school holidays would make attending a hearing difficult.
After you send off or submit the appeal form, all your communication will be with His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). HMCTS are the government body that organises the courts and tribunals in the UK.
HMCTS will sometimes communicate with you via email and texts. They’ll tell the DWP you have appealed and ask the DWP to write a submission explaining their decision. This will then be sent to you along with all other relevant documents, including a copy of your claim form and any medical reports that you submitted with your claim. This is called the appeal bundle, or schedule of evidence.
The appeal bundle is very important. You will need it for the appeal hearing.
Read the appeal bundle carefully. This might be the first time you get to see what evidence the DWP has used to make its decision, or the first time you get a proper explanation of their decision.
Now you have a better idea of why the DWP have made their decision, you have the opportunity to write to the tribunal to explain why you still disagree with the decision. Sometimes this is called a submission, but it’s really just a letter to the tribunal.
You might want to make sure the tribunal consider a specific point, for example how well you or your child can hear in noisy situations. Alternatively, you might want to disagree with something you’ve read in the appeal bundle. You don’t have to write to the tribunal, but it can sometimes help, especially if you spot things the DWP have written that are wrong or inaccurate.
You can also still send in further evidence to HMCTS. Make sure you put the appeal reference number on anything you send. If you’re sending documents such as hearing test results or medical letters, you should only send photocopies.
HMCTS will notify you of the date of the hearing, normally by post. You should make every effort to attend.
What happens at the tribunal?
If you’re attending the hearing, it should be held in one of the three ways you requested; in person, by telephone or by video. The Judge will introduce everyone and then they and the other panel members will ask questions.
Tribunals are informal and inquisitorial. This means they are there to ask questions, establish the facts and make a decision on the balance of probabilities (something is more likely than not), in accordance with the law. There are no rules about what you can and can’t say, and you don’t have to prove your case. If you don’t understand a question or can’t answer it, simply tell them this.
Remember, the panel are considering the circumstances when the DWP made the decision, which could be some months ago.
The Judge should give you an opportunity to make points yourself, as well as answer their questions. If they don’t, you can ask to do this at the end. Focus on the reasons you appealed and why you think the decision was wrong, such as if you disagree with a school report or something the DWP wrote.
What happens after the tribunal?
The tribunal will usually inform you of their decision a few days after the hearing. But in some cases, they may tell you on the day or soon after the hearing is over.
If you win at tribunal
If your appeal is successful, it normally takes a few weeks for the decision to be put into effect. It’s a good idea to send the DWP a copy of the tribunal decision when you get it.
The DWP might consider appealing against the decision, but this is extremely rare. You will know if this happens as they will ask for a statement of reasons for the tribunal decision, and you will be sent one as well. Seek advice if this happens.
If you lose at tribunal
If your appeal is unsuccessful, your options are limited. You could consider making a new claim for the benefit. If your or your child’s needs have increased since the original claim or you have better supporting evidence, it’s worth claiming for the benefit again.
If the benefit you're awarded is not as much as you’d hoped, it's important to remember that a tribunal decision is final, unless the tribunal got the law wrong, made an irrational decision or made a serious procedural error. A tribunal decision can’t be challenged just because you disagree with its findings, or even because another tribunal hearing all the same evidence might have made a different decision.
Appealing a decision of the First-tier Tribunal to the Upper Tribunal is a difficult thing to do without advice or support from someone who’s experienced in this kind of work. If you’ve been advised that you should appeal a tribunal decision, you must:
- ask for a copy of the statement of reasons for the First-tier Tribunal’s decision. You have one month from the date the decision is given or sent to you to ask for this
- identify an error of law in the decision
- apply for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal
- if granted permission, make the application to appeal to the Upper Tribunal, stating the errors of law the tribunal made
- if refused permission, ask the Upper Tribunal itself for permission to appeal. If they refuse you permission, you can only challenge that in the courts by way of Judicial Review.
At every step you must work within the time limits and provide the paperwork requested. The Upper Tribunal makes almost all its decisions based on the papers (without a hearing), so you won’t have to attend a hearing.
The Upper Tribunal can:
- reject your appeal and confirm the tribunal decision
- accept your appeal and make a new decision (positive or negative)
- accept your appeal and send it back to a new tribunal to hear the case again.
The Upper Tribunal’s decision can only be challenged or changed in the courts.
If you’re considering appealing a tribunal decision, we would suggest you ask for the Statement of Reasons and then contact our free Helpline who’ll be able to advise you further.