Consider appealing to a tribunal if you disagree with a council decision about your housing benefit claim.
Housing benefit decisions that can be appealed
You can appeal if you disagree with a decision made by the housing benefit office at your local council.
You can appeal to a First-tier tribunal if, for example:
- your application for housing benefit is turned down
- the amount of housing benefit you get is reduced
- your request for backdated housing benefit is rejected
- you've been told to repay an overpayment of housing benefit
You can appeal if you asked the council to reconsider a housing benefit decision but you don't agree with their decision.
Housing benefit decisions that can't be appealed
Some council decisions can't be taken to a tribunal, such as decisions about how frequently your benefit is paid.
Tribunals also don't deal with administrative problems such as delays or lack of courtesy from the council staff. Complain directly to the council about these problems.
Look on your council's website to find out how to make a complaint about your council.
How to start an appeal
You must write to ask for an appeal. Send this to the council's housing benefit office. It sends your appeal and its response to the tribunal.
The council may have a form you should use or you could write a letter. An adviser can appeal on your behalf if you give them permission.
Make it clear what you are appealing against and why you think the decision on your housing benefit claim is wrong. Include your evidence where possible.
There is a time limit for this process. Normally your appeal form or letter must reach the council within one month of the date on the council's decision letter.
You can ask the council to reconsider its decision on your housing benefit claim before you appeal. If the council changes its decision and you are happy with it, there is no need to go to the tribunal.
How long the appeal process takes
It usually takes between three and eight months in total to get your housing benefit appeal decided by a tribunal.
Consider starting the tribunal process at the same time as you ask the council to reconsider its decision on your housing benefit claim.
You won't have to go ahead with the tribunal if the council changes its decision.
If the council needs more information
The council might decide that you haven't given proper reasons for a challenge. It will write and ask you for more details.
If the council still thinks you haven't given enough information, it will ask the tribunal if your appeal should go ahead.
Steps before a housing benefit tribunal
The tribunal sends you a pre-hearing enquiry form before a hearing date is set.
You must fill this in and send it back within 14 days. If you can't meet the deadline, contact the tribunal and explain why.
The form asks for details of your representative if you have one. This is so the tribunal can send copies of the appeal papers to them.
The form asks how you want your appeal to be dealt with. This can be either through:
- an oral hearing – you or your representative have to attend the tribunal
- a paper hearing – you don't have to attend
An oral hearing gives you a chance to put your housing benefit case in person and answer questions.
Interpreters at the hearing
Tell the tribunal and your representative in advance if you need a translator or interpreter.
How to prepare for a housing benefit appeal hearing
Gather your evidence and send it to the tribunal before the hearing.
If you ask for an oral hearing, the tribunal tells you where and when it will be. You are told at least 14 days before the hearing. You can claim:
- travel expenses
- childminding expenses
- compensation for loss of earnings, up to set limits
Ask for a hearing at your home if you can't go to the tribunal hearing because of a medical condition.
For a paper hearing, you won't be told when it will take place, so make sure you send your evidence in as soon as possible.
What happens at the tribunal hearing
At an oral hearing, you or your representative get a chance to explain your situation and put forward arguments about why the council's decision is wrong. Present the facts clearly.
The council usually sends someone to put their case. The judge often makes a decision that day. You will always be sent the decision in writing.
If you don't agree with the tribunal's decision
You might be able to appeal to a higher tribunal – an Upper Tribunal – if you don't agree with the First-tier tribunal decision.
You can only do this if you believe that the tribunal didn't apply the law properly.
Judicial review of a housing benefit decision
You may be able to use a process called judicial review to go to court to challenge the council's original decision on your housing benefit claim.
Judicial review can only be used to challenge the way the council made the decision, not the decision itself.
The process is complicated and expensive. You'll need help from a solicitor or law centre.
Get help with your appeal
Get advice as soon as you can. A housing adviser may be able to help you prepare for the tribunal and explain the process.
You can only get help from a legal aid lawyer if your appeal is going to the Upper Tribunal or you are asking for judicial review, and you claim certain benefits or have a low income.
Last updated 25 Apr 2016 | © Shelter