Help with common benefit problems


With 20 million people claiming welfare benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) every year, it is no surprise that there are a few problems along the way.

However, we find the same questions come up all the time: How do I challenge a decision? Am I affected by the Benefit Cap? What happens if I work extra hours?

While there are many specific issues with particular benefits, here is our guidance to five of these common questions.

How do I challenge a benefit decision?

If you think a benefit or tax credit decision is wrong, you may be able to try and get it changed.

Decisions about your benefit or tax credit claim will be made by the DWP, HMRC or your local authority or council – depending on the claim.

Each benefit has a different challenging process. Find out how to challenge a specific decision.

What can I do if I have been sanctioned?

To challenge a sanction, the first thing you need to do is ask for a ‘mandatory reconsideration’. This should be done in writing and can be given to your local jobcentre.  It is advisable to keep a copy of this.

If the DWP refuse to change their decision, then you can make a formal appeal. You should contact your local Citizens Advice bureau or an advice centre for advice before appealing. Use the Find an Adviser tool to locate your nearest source of advice.

Thirdly, you can apply for a Hardship Payment. This normally pays around 60% of your usual benefit payment. Read our information on Hardship Payments to see if you qualify.

Am I affected by the Benefit Cap?

The Benefit Cap is a limit to the total amount in some benefits that working-age people can receive.

However the Benefit Cap won't apply to you if you are exempt. You are exempt if you:

If you are struggling to pay your rent because the cap reduces your Housing Benefit, you can apply to your local council for Discretionary Housing Payment.

How can I access emergency assistance?

If an emergency means you are struggling to get by and you urgently need financial help, you may be able to get other support.

You may be able to receive a Hardship Payment, an Advance Payment or a Budgeting Loan or Advance if you claim certain benefits.

Your local authority or council may be able to help through a Local Welfare Assistance scheme. You may get help with essentials, but you can’t usually get cash.

Emergency assistance is also available through foodbanks and other places which offer support for people in a crisis.

Find out what emergency assistance is available to you.

How are my benefits affected if I work extra hours?

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Working Tax Credit (WTC), Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Income Support (IS) are affected by hours worked.

If you do 16 hours or more paid work per week you can’t claim JSA or IS. However you may be able to claim Working Tax Credit.

You normally can’t do any work while claiming ESA.

Entitlement to Universal Credit is not affected by work hours, but increased earnings will reduce the amount you receive. You should use our Benefits Calculator to check which benefits you should claim.

Find out more about benefits and work.