If you’re receiving benefits and they are suddenly cut, you may be worried about how you’ll pay bills and meet living costs. When you rely on benefit payments to support you and your family, even a small reduction can be extremely stressful.
Here’s what you need to know if you find yourself in this situation, including resources that could help ease pressure on your finances, and how to make an appeal against reductions to any kind of benefits, including disability benefits (such as ESA, PIP, DLA or Attendance Allowance), Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance and the Housing Benefit.
Why were my benefits cut?
There are several reasons why you may have received a cut in your benefits. The amount you receive usually depends on the kind of benefits you’re claiming and your personal circumstances. If these change for any reason, for example, perhaps you’ve started living with a partner, this can impact the amount you receive.
You might have a reduction applied to your Housing Benefit or Universal Credit payments if you move to a bigger council or housing association property and have a spare room in your home. The official definition of a spare room is quite specific. Read more about the bedroom tax in our article What is the bedroom tax and who has to pay it?
Some forms of benefits will come with rules that you have to follow in order to keep claiming them. For example, claiming Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance is usually based on the agreement that you will search for employment and report to a work coach on a regular basis.
If you fail to meet these terms, your benefits may be reduced or paused until you fulfil them. This is called a sanction. If you continue not to meet the benefit requirements, your benefits may be cut and you may have your claim disallowed, which means that it will end altogether.
What to do if your benefits have been cut
Your best course of action will depend on your circumstances and which of your benefits have been reduced.
My Housing Benefit/Universal Credit has been cut and I am worried about paying my rent
If your Housing Benefit or the housing element of your Universal Credit has been reduced and you’re unsure how you will continue to afford your rent, there are a few things you can do.
It’s worth talking to your landlord, council, or housing association first to see if there are any options available to you. They may be able to point you towards extra financial help, delay charging rent until you are able to pay, or help you move somewhere cheaper.
You may be able to apply to your local council for a Discretionary Housing Payment to make up a rent shortfall or deposit. However, bear in mind this is usually not a long term measure, but a payment to tide you over for a short period. You can find out more and apply for a DHP here.
If your benefits have been cut specifically because you have a spare bedroom, you may be able to make up for this loss by taking in a lodger. Find out more about this in our guide Renting out a room – What you need to know.
My benefits have been reduced and I cannot meet my living costs
If you’re struggling to meet everyday basic living costs such as your energy bills or food bills, see if you might be entitled to a council tax reduction.
Many local councils offer Council Tax Reduction schemes for households on low incomes or benefits, with reductions of up to 100%. The reduction you receive will depend on where you live, your income and savings, and other members of your household. If you’re eligible, a reduction could help you save a significant amount of money. You can apply for a Council Tax Reduction here.
Your council may also offer a local welfare scheme for families and individuals who are struggling to meet basic costs. The Household Support Fund is provided by the government to councils for this purpose. Contact your local council to see if you might be available for support.
It’s also worth approaching your Jobcentre to see if you can apply for a Hardship Payment to cover basic costs. This is a loan offered to those who are struggling to meet basic needs and have exhausted all other reasonable options, such as cutting down on costs, or working extra hours. The loan is typically repaid from future Universal Credit payments. Read more about the Hardship Payment on the Citizens Advice website.
Making an appeal against a benefits reduction
If you believe your benefits were unfairly cut, or reduced in error, you can appeal to challenge the reduction.
The rules are broadly the same for any type of benefits other than the Housing Benefit. The following steps apply to reductions or cuts to your Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s allowance, any disability benefits (such as ESA, PIP, DLA or Attendance Allowance), and so on. The rules for appealing a Housing Benefit decision can be found afterwards.
To appeal a reduction in any benefit aside from Housing Benefit, the rules are generally as follows:
Contact the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to review the decision. This is called Mandatory Reconsideration. They will then give you a ‘Mandatory Reconsideration Notice’ which tells you whether or not they have changed their decision to reduce your benefits. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome, the notice will indicate whether you can go ahead with an appeal to an independent tribunal. If you can and wish to appeal, you should aim to do so within one month of receiving the notice.
You begin the appeals process by applying to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).
If you’re appealing a decision made by the DWP, you can do so here. You’ll need your National Insurance number and details from your Mandatory Reconsideration Notice. If you would prefer not to apply online, you can print and complete form SSCS1 and send it to the address on the form.
If you’re appealing a decision made by HMRC, you’ll have to do so via post. Print out and complete form SSCS5 and send it to the address on the form, along with a copy of your Mandatory Reconsideration Notice.
The DWP or HMRC should send any evidence you’ve already provided to HMCTS, so you don’t need to send it again when you appeal. Any new evidence can be uploaded with your online application or posted along with your form. HMCTS will consider your form and send you a response, along with copies of the evidence they have received and a date for a hearing if applicable.
You’ll be asked if you want to attend the hearing, which will enable the tribunal to ask you questions before they make a decision. If you feel as though you can, then going to this is usually a good idea, as it’s likely to strengthen your case. If you prefer, your hearing may be online or over the phone.
You can take a friend or family member to the hearing for support if you like. You can also claim back travel expenses and pay you might have missed out on by attending. Your nearest Citizens Advice may also offer you free representation at the hearing if you feel as though this would be beneficial.
You will usually get an answer to your case on the day of the hearing if you have one. If it takes longer to decide the result, you will receive an answer by post.
If you don’t have a hearing, a decision will be made based on your appeal form and evidence, and an answer will be sent to you by post.
Appealing a Housing Benefit reduction
To appeal a Housing Benefit reduction, you’ll need to contact your local council within one month of getting a letter informing you about the cut. If they ask you to write a letter, include your name, address, National Insurance number, any reference numbers from their letter, the date of the decision and why you think the decision was wrong. You can contact your nearest Citizens Advice for assistance.
Include any evidence that might help your case. For example, if you have split up with a partner but your benefits have been cut because they believe you are still living together, you can send a copy of a bill addressed to your partner at their new address. Or, if your child is older than 18 and in education or training, you can provide documentation to confirm this and show that they are not able to contribute to rent.
If you’re struggling to pay for things like food or rent, explain to the council that you don’t have enough money to live on. This should prompt a quicker decision.
The council will review your Housing Benefit decision when they receive your appeal.
If they don’t change the decision, or further cut your benefits, they should automatically send your appeal to a tribunal.
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) will then write to tell you what happens next.
Finding ways to cut your costs
A cut in benefits can be extremely stressful, but if you can, spend some time considering how you may be able to reduce your costs to make up the difference. You can find a range of articles with ways to make savings in your day-to-day life in our Ways to save money section. For example, our article How to save money – 17 money saving tips offers lots of simple suggestions as a starting point.
Do you receive benefits, and have you ever had these reduced because of a change in circumstances? Have you appealed the decision? We’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the conversation on the Rest Less Community forum or leave a comment below.