Benefit challenges and appeals
6. Appeal hearings
Depending on where you live a tribunal hearing can be held at:
- East Lancashire: Burnley or Blackburn
- South Lancashire: Wigan or Preston
- North Lancashire: Lancaster or Blackpool
If you are unable to leave your home at all, sometimes the tribunal can be held at your home, if the tribunal agrees this is the only way your case can be decided fairly. This is called a domiciliary hearing and these are only granted in exceptional circumstances. Such requests can be refused even if you have a doctor's letter.
If you choose not to attend, your case can be decided by a paper hearing. This means that your case can be heard by a tribunal anywhere in the country and you will not be either invited to attend or told when the hearing is taking place. You may not hear anything further about your case until you receive a written decision by post.
In some areas, new ways of deciding appeals such as telephone hearings, video-link "Skype" appeals and online dispute resolution are being trialled. You might be asked if you would like your appeal to be decided this way.
What will happen at the hearing
The tribunal will look at all the evidence and allow you to explain why you disagree with the decision. The tribunal members may also ask you questions about how your health problems affect you.
The tribunal will always include a legally qualified chair (called the tribunal judge). Depending on the type of benefit there may also be a doctor and a member with some experience of disability (their own or as a carer). They do not work for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The DWP may send one of their officers to explain their decision to the tribunal but often do not.
You can take someone to support you at the tribunal, for example a friend, family member or support worker. They can go into the hearing with you and can add any information they feel is useful. But please remember that the tribunal want to hear from you how your condition affects you so it is important that your friend or relative support you to get across what you want to say.
If you have a representative, they can go to the hearing with you, but you will still have to answer the tribunal's questions yourself. A representative can identify the relevant issues for the tribunal and put forward arguments, but is not normally allowed to answer questions on your behalf.
Answering the tribunal's questions
When you explain your case at the tribunal:
- Don't exaggerate your problems – if the tribunal think you are exaggerating they are less likely to believe other evidence you give.
- Don't guess if you don't know the answer, try and give relevant examples of your difficulties from your own experience.
- Don't contradict yourself – the tribunal may not believe the rest of your arguments.
- Remember the appeal is about how you were when the decision was made not how you are on the day of the tribunal. This can sometimes be a several months or even a year earlier so it's important that you think about how you were then when giving your answers.
- For incapacity and disability benefit appeals, the focus needs to be on the areas covered in the assessment for the benefit you are claiming. For example the "points system" for Personal Independence Payment or the Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance/Universal Credit. This could be about physical and/or mental health.
The tribunal decision
You are usually given the decision on the same day as your tribunal hearing. You will be given a written copy of the decision and also some guidance about what to do if you are not happy with the decision. Sometimes the decision will be sent to you by post instead.
If you lose your appeal in some cases you may be able to appeal against the tribunal decision but only if it made an error in law, not just because you disagree with the decision. If your health has deteriorated or if you have had any changes of circumstances you may be able to make a new claim.