Nick Dilworth writes a guest post on the state of the benefits system and what to do if you have problems with benefits.
Holding the state to account
Having helped many hundreds of people battle with the Secretary of State over benefit decisions which are often full of flaws, badly reasoned and which are all too often overturned by independent Tribunals allowing appeals in favour of the claimant, I am increasingly concerned about the gross erosion of access to justice following cut backs in legal aid and cuts backs in the advice sector. As a front line benefit specialist we are fully stretched in trying to help more people than our limited resources can adequately properly provide for.
I’m seeing large numbers of people turn to social media in an effort to find online solutions, its soul destroying to see so many people out on a limb and alarming that much of the advice available simply isn’t right.
So here’s a few handy hints.
What should you do if you find your benefits stopped, reduced or subject to sanction?
- In all cases you should try and get help from a reputable advice agency such as the CAB or a recognised law centre. Despite savage cut backs the advice sector is still there to help you and even if they can’t offer you one to one help you can access updated advice resources which enable some people to resolve their problems by empowering them to follow the correct procedure. Agencies have proper indemnity insurance if anything goes wrong and rigid training is in place for staff who provide advice, so speak to someone in the know.
- Make sure you know which process to follow. If your benefits have stopped or been reduced or you are subject to a sanction, you will generally have a statutory right of appeal and a right to request written reasons as to how the decision was arrived at. Most statutory authorities use fairly standard stock phrased letters, sometimes it pays to ask for more detailed information so you can be sure of exactly what it is that you disagree with. Many disputes have to be resolved by initially requesting a ‘mandatory reconsideration’. After this you should be sent a ‘mandatory reconsideration notice’; if you still disagree with the decision you can request a formal appeal to an independent tribunal arranged by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS); you’ll need to send a copy of the mandatory reconsideration notice with form SSCS1 to the HMCTS Appeals Centre to the address given on the form. These types of disputes are known as formal reconsideration requests, revisions/supersessions and lodging formal appeal.
- Always put your reconsideration request, request for reasons or formal appeal in writing, keep a copy and send it by some form of recorded mail so you have proof of postage and receipt. Authorities try and resolve disputes of this nature by telephone, by all means use it to speed things up but always back everything up in writing and make sure you keep a record of when the call was made, what was said and who you spoke to. Why you should write not phone. If you have been given a valid email then use it as it enables you to show evidence of communication. Do everything in the time limits, if this isn’t possible then provide some reasons for lateness.
- Top 20 Tips for complaning gives more advice on how to write a complaint
- If you are unhappy over treatment you have received from a statutory agency you can complain. This may be appropriate in cases of delay, where standards expected fall below what they should be or where you believe you have been mistreated or treated unfairly. Write to the Customer Complaints Manager of the department concerned and set out your complaint to provide a brief history followed by specific grounds under different headings followed by a summary and an idea of what you consider to be a suitable remedy. Remember to be clear between the process of disputing/appealing and complaining otherwise your appeal may get lost in the wording of a complaint. Break your letter down in to concise sections setting out the complaint in such a way that it is relevant, easy to follow and likely to draw attention to what’s gone wrong and who you consider to be at fault. Set a timescale in which you should expect a reply. Refer to any guidance of the department as to their complaints procedure. You can always complain to MPs and other statutory bodies if you remain dissatisfied with trying to sort things out with the agency involved.
- Contact details for key personnel responsible and for the DWP can be found here.
- Some agencies and disputes, often concerning tax credits for instance, may be subject to a discretionary code where you don’t have a formal right of appeal. This doesn’t apply in all tax credit cases but for the majority you will need to follow the HMRC Code of Practice (COP 26) and set out your dispute in writing, you should argue your dispute and seek to persuade the agency on using their discretion to resolve it in your favour, it’s always good to cite the code and illustrate how it applies.
In cases involving a large loss of money, where the impact on you is serious, when being investigated or where issues of law arise you should always seek proper professional help.
About the author
Nick Dilworth is a welfare benefit specialist of over 20 years full time experience, alongside his day job in the advice sector he writes for the popular online website ilegal.org.uk where’s he’s received over 2 million views for his many articles tracking the chaotic reforms of the DWP and taken apart many government statistics to enable people to get a better concept of what’s really going on in the world of welfare.