Having your benefits claim rejected can be really difficult, particularly if you know you’re going to struggle to make ends meet without the money.

Don’t despair if your claim doesn’t get accepted the first time, as there may still be options available to you. In this guide, we take you through how to appeal a rejected claim and some alternative options that might be worth considering.

Why was my benefits claim rejected?

If your benefits claim has been rejected this could be for a number of reasons, and will depend on your circumstances and the kind of benefits you are claiming.

One quite common reason for benefits claims being rejected is simply that there could have been a problem with your application. Not giving enough information, or getting anything wrong on your forms is likely to jeopardise your claim, for example.

You might have also not complied with some other early stage of the process. For example, if you are claiming Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance you are expected to have an interview – either in person or over the phone – to discuss your claim and your plan for looking for work. If you haven’t set up an interview or didn’t attend it at the agreed time, this could result in your claim being rejected.

Of course, it is also possible that there was no problem with your application itself, but it was decided based on the information you gave that you are not eligible for benefits. For example, you will not be entitled to Universal Credit if you have £16,000 or more in savings, regardless of how much your income is.

Appealing a benefits decision

Appealing a benefits decision if you believe you were wrongly rejected involves a series of particular steps.

The rules are broadly the same for any type of benefits other than for the Housing Benefit (more about this later).

The following steps apply to rejections for Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance, any disability benefits (such as ESA, PIP, DLA or Attendance Allowance), and so on.

First, contact the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to review the decision. You should aim to do this within one month of the letter informing you of your rejection.

You may have the opportunity to give evidence in support of your claim at this stage. For example, if you cannot walk unaided but have been rejected from getting the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) because they think that you can, you can include a letter from a physiotherapist confirming that you can’t.

You will receive a ‘Mandatory Reconsideration Notice’ which tells you whether or not the decision has been changed.

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 you wish to appeal, you should aim to do so within one month of receiving the notice.

If you have been rejected for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you may be able to go straight to a tribunal without asking for mandatory reconsideration, if the Department for Work and Pensions has rejected you because they do not think you have “limited capability for work”. You may be entitled to get ESA at least until the end of the appeal process if this happens, too.

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 rejection

To appeal a Housing Benefit rejection, you’ll need to contact your local council within one month of the decision. 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 claim for Housing Benefit has been rejected because they believe you are still living together, you can send a copy of a bill addressed to your partner at their new address as proof that you’re no longer co-habiting. 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 their decision 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.

Looking into alternatives

If you are claiming benefits for the first time, our article Five free sources of help if you’re making a benefits claim may be of some use to you.

Many local councils offer Council Tax Reduction schemes for households on low incomes or benefits, with reductions of up to 100%, depending on your individual circumstances. The specific 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. You can read more about this in our article The Household Support Fund Explained.

It’s also worth approaching your Jobcentre to see if you can apply for a Hardship Payment to cover your basic living 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.

Remember that being rejected from one form of benefits doesn’t mean that you might not be eligible for others. For example, there are multiple different kinds of disability benefits available, so if you have a particular health issue, it may be the case that there is a different option that is more suitable for you. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you are in need of guidance on this.

Our Everyday Finance section also includes several articles about saving money in your day-to-day life, which might be helpful if you are awaiting a benefits decision. Try our articles Seven ways to save on your household bills or Budgeting if your income has reduced.