Benefits appeal hearings (COVID 19)
Information on appeal hearings during the coronavirus pandemic.
Currently all Social Security tribunal hearings where you attend in person have been suspended.
Tribunal appeal hearings are to be on papers where possible. In these cases, a provisional decision will be made and sent to all parties. All parties will have 28 days to notify the Tribunal Service if they do not agree with the decision. After 28 days, if neither party has disagreed, the decision will be binding. For cases that cannot be decided on the papers, as far as possible, hearings will be done remotely, and may be done in the absence of parties. A salaried judge can make decisions about the composition of the panel. These decisions will be a tribunal decision and binding. If you are unhappy with the tribunal decision made, you may be able to get it set aside - seek advice. This process is set to last six months but this may change.
Your benefit appeal may be arranged to be heard by phone, please see the following from one of our Welfare Rights Advisers explaining what to expect:
Benefit appeal hearings heard using phone conferencing
Some appeal hearings are being heard on the phone.
You should receive notice of the date and time of your appeal by post. There will also be notes telling you more about the guidelines for the phone conference. For example, it is a criminal offence to record the hearing although it will be recorded by the tribunal service.
The notice will tell you that the appeal is to be heard 'by way of a telephone hearing'. It will tell you the phone number the tribunal service has for you. If the number is incorrect or you want to use a different number you will need to contact them with the new information. If you do not want to have your appeal heard by phone you should contact them on the phone number on the letter and explain this.
The phone call is started by an automated service, which is unable to operate if you have call screening facility. You are asked to contact your telephone provider to remove this service; if you are unable to do this please let the tribunal service know..
Normally 14 days' notice is given for a hearing. The notice explains that due to the current situation, less than 14 days may have been given. It also says you can request a postponement to a later date if you need more notice. You can also request this if there is any other reason why the date given is inconvenient.
If you have a support worker or a friend or relative that you want to be included in the hearing you will need to let the tribunal service know and give their details including their phone number. The tribunal service should have the details of your representative if you have one but if you are unsure check that they have those details. You can also have someone with you for company and support, although due to the current situation this will not be possible for some people who are self-isolating alone.
When you answer the call you will be given automated instructions to press * 1 and then say your name after the tone. After that the judge will speak to you and introduce you to the hearing and any other people involved.
Before the hearing
Any evidence or information you want the panel to consider should be sent to Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) in the normal way. If you are sending things by post give time for it to get there. The address will be on correspondence from HMCTS.
Include your name, national insurance number and appeal reference on anything you send in. The appeal reference is on the letter giving you details of the hearing.
If you are worried your information will not arrive in time for the hearing you should ask for a postponement. Remember, it has to be processed and emailed to the panel members and this can take several days after it's been received, sometimes longer. Ring the number on your letter to find out if information you've sent in has been received. You will be sent back a copy of anything you send in to add to your appeal papers but if it's sent in shortly before the hearing you may not get it back in time.
You can email documents to sscsa-cardiff@Justice.gov.uk remember to put your name, NI number and appeal reference number clearly in the email.
The appeal hearing itself
Things to consider:
- You may not be contacted 'on time'. Your hearing could be at 10.00am and you may not be phoned until 10.15 or later. The notes sent out tell you how long to wait and what action to take if you get worried that your hearing has not started.
- Not being able to see the panel or be seen has advantages and disadvantages. There may be less stress from not being watched but body language can help people understand what you're saying and how you feel. However, it can also be misleading. If you rely on body language a lot bear this in mind. It may mean you need to ask for questions to be repeated more or put a different way to work out what information is being asked of you.
- If you answer a question and afterwards realise you have misunderstood and have given incorrect information let the panel know.
- If you feel that the panel have misunderstood or misheard your answer, tell them and try and explain.
- Get into as comfortable a position as possible for the hearing. The advantage of a phone hearing is you can move when you need to and you can sit, stand or lie down.
- Make sure your phone is charged and working.
- Ask for a break if you need one. This should not be refused. The call should be ended by everyone putting the phone down and you will be rung back at an agreed time.
- It is fine to ask for a break to talk to your representative or support worker. This is important if you become confused and need advice about what is happening, what is being asked and what is expected of you. You can then ring them, or they you, in the normal way during the break.
- Let the panel know if you have trouble hearing - and keep letting them know if it doesn't get better. Don't try and guess what is being said if you can't hear properly.
- If you don't understand the question ask for it to be repeated as many times as necessary.
- Give yourself time to think before answering. If you are being rushed or interrupted before you've finished ask them to slow down and give you more time to answer.
- Turn off radios, TVs, digital devices such as Alexa and other phones in the room you are in.
- Don't have conversations with people who are with you while the hearing is going on without letting the panel know you want to say something to someone in the room. Ask anyone with you not to talk to you during the hearing.
Who will be at the hearing
- The panel will be made up of 1, 2 or 3 people depending on the type of hearing. For disability benefits (PIP, AA and DLA) there will be 3 panel members: A judge, a doctor and a 'lay' member. For 'Incapacity for work' benefits (ESA and UC) there will be a judge and a doctor and for most other hearings there will just be a judge. There may also be a 'presenting officer'. This is someone from the DWP (or whichever department made the decision). They are not on the panel and do not take part in making the decision but can ask you questions and explain their decision to the panel.
- This means there may be quite a few people involved and you will not be able to see who is talking. The judge should make this clear by explaining at each stage what is happening and who is asking the questions.
- If you have a support worker, friend or representative they will not be allowed to answer the questions for you and they will be told at the beginning not to interrupt. However, if someone needs to interrupt they can do so by just asking permission and they may be allowed to. They may however be asked to wait until later in the hearing to speak. This will depend on the judge.
- At the end of the hearing you will be informed about approximately when to expect a decision which will normally be sent to you by post.