Facts about Appeals
Have you applied for a DSS benefit and been refused? If so, you may be considering an appeal against the decision and are faced with the prospect of attending a Tribunal.
Many people hear the words "independent tribunal" and immediately imagine a court setting with a witness box, jury and people in wigs and gowns. Nothing could be further from the truth - tribunals do follow the law of the land but there are no witness boxes, no oaths but plenty of questions!
There are different types of Tribunals:
Disability Appeal Tribunals (DATs) deal with appeals for Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance. The Tribunal is made up of three people who do not work for or are paid by the DSS. The Chairman is a solicitor, there is a doctor and a lay person or carer.
Social Security Appeal Tribunals (SSATs) deal with two types of appeals. The first deals with questions of DSS law e.g. did you have an accident, did you claim for a benefit in the right way or in the right time. The second function of SSATs is to deal with appeals for Incapacity Benefit. A SSAT can be one member or more than one member. A one member Tribunal will be a Chairman who will consider your appeal on their own.
Medical Appeal Tribunals (MATs) deal with medical questions e.g. how are you affected by an accident, are you 80% disabled to qualify for Severe Disablement Allowance. MATs have the usual chairman and two other members who are medical consultants.
Pension Appeal Tribunals (PATs) deal with appeals for war pensions and are outside the scope of this article.
Child Support Appeal Tribunals (CSATs) are also outside the scope of this article.
If you have any specific questions on PATs or CSATs please contact us.
The procedure at Tribunals is very similar. The Tribunal (one or members) sit at a large desk. The Chairman will introduce everyone in the room. You sit facing them - on one side may be a representative from the Benefits Agency (not intended to be "the enemy") who explains their side of the case, and on your other side you may have a representative. Representatives can be very helpful - they can present the case for you and argue the facts on your behalf. DAIS provides representation as do other welfare rights organisations. How to contact us
If you do not have a representative you can take a friend or family member to help you.
Once the Benefits Agency and your representative, if you have one, have had their say the Tribunal will ask you questions. This is intended to establish the facts. You may find the questioning very thorough and sometimes very personal and the Tribunal may ask you the same question in a different way more than once. Be patient and answer as accurately as you can. With a MAT you will be medically examined by the consultants.
Once the Tribunal have all the information they need they will ask everyone to leave the room while they reach a decision. It is usual to then be called back to the room for the "decision". Sometimes, due to lack of time, or if your appeal is very complicated, the Tribunal will send you a decision through the post.
SSATs dealing with Incapacity Benefit are slightly different. In addition to the Tribunal there will be a GP present in the room. He will not be the doctor who examined you for the Benefit and he will not examine you for the Tribunal. He is there as a "medical dictionary" - he will answer questions from the Tribunal and you about your condition and your medication. He should not lead the Tribunal or try to influence their decision. He takes no part in the decision making process.
It can be helpful to take further evidence. This means a letter from your GP, consultant etc which explains the problems you have and why they feel you should have the benefit. It is best to send this in to the Tribunal office well before the appeal if you can, particularly if it is more than one page - the address for the Tribunal office will be on the official letter which confirms your appeal. Also quote your appeal reference number from that letter if there is one and your National Insurance Number.
Well before the Tribunal hearing you will receive a thick wad of papers called a "schedule of evidence". These are all the letters, claim forms and other documents which form your claim. The Tribunal will also receive these. Read them carefully. Identify any mistakes - look at times and dates. Think of how you will answer the questions. Look at how the decision has been explained and try to work out why you disagree with it.
Oral or paper hearings
As the name suggests the appeal is decided on paper - in other words the schedule of evidence plus any further evidence you send in. Before the Tribunal you will be asked if you require a paper or oral hearing - if you do not intend to attend a Tribunal and be heard in person then opt for the paper hearing. An oral hearing allows you the chance to see the people making the decision, for them to see you and for you to put your case. It is important you say everything you want to say and that you feel you have had a fair hearing.
Notice of an appeal
You should receive advance notification of the date of the appeal. If you cannot attend and have a good reason e.g. a hospital appointment, contact the Tribunal office immediately. They will help you to ask for a postponement or adjournment of the appeal.
Further help and advice:
For further help and advice on any DSS matters including appeals please contact us. How to contact us