The 3-stage appeals process

Most decisions about your benefits can be appealed. These decisions include whether you are entitled to a particular benefit, whether you have a ‘limited capability for work’, or whether your benefits should be sanctioned because you have not met a work-related requirement.

Important exceptions which cannot be appealed include whether to give you an advance on your benefits, or what work-related requirements are recorded on your claimant commitment – which you must sign as part of your application for universal credit.

Whether to recover an overpayment (although not the amount of the overpayment or whether it is was overpaid) is not an appealable decision either.

There are three stages to the appeal process. Please note there are slightly different procedures for challenging devolved Scottish benefits and council tax reduction.

1. Mandatory Reconsideration

This is the first stage of an appeal and involves an internal review by the authority which made the decision that you want to challenge.

The authority could be the DWP, HMRC for tax credits and child benefit, or your local authority for housing benefit.

The letter you receive to tell you the decision will contain details of how to request a mandatory reconsideration.

The time limit is one month from the date of the decision you want to see changed (30 days for tax credits), and the deadline can be extended 12 further months.

Top tip: If requesting the mandatory reconsideration by post, make sure you send it via recorded delivery.

2. Appeals

This is a more formal process that requires you to request an appeal – usually in writing or online – through His Majesty Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS). In most cases a mandatory reconsideration must be completed before you can request an appeal. (Housing Benefit decisions and some Employment Support Allowance decisions are two exceptions).

The HMCTS will convene a First Tier Tribunal to consider your appeal and there may be a hearing, either in person, on the phone or online.

In your request, tell the HMCTS why you think the decision is wrong and if possible, provide evidence to support your case.  

There are strict deadlines for making the appeal request; initially one month from the date of the mandatory reconsideration (although this can be extended). It may help you to be represented by a welfare rights adviser, although this is not a requirement.

3. Upper Tribunal

The Upper Tribunal can examine a decision only if the First Tier Tribunal has looked at it first and has made an error in law. Disagreeing with the decision is not enough; a legal mistake must be identified before the Upper Tribunal can examine the decision.

If you wish to appeal against the Upper Tribunal decision, a welfare rights adviser or solicitor will be able to support you.

Don’t be afraid to appeal!

In general, around 60% of people who appeal eventually succeed, and amongst people with PH, our own research found this to be 80%.

It is likely however to be a lengthy wait. The appeal system allows for flexibility in timescales and is designed to be useable by the public without a lawyer, although getting support from an advice agency will be helpful.

The information on this page was reviewed and updated in September 2023