Yes: going to a benefit tribunal can be scary. But your job, as the appellant (the person appealing) is very simple.
All you have to do is be there, be polite, listen to each question, and answer it as truthfully as you can. That’s it.
If you do this it doesn’t guarantee that you will win, but if you don’t it will pretty much guarantee that you will lose.
Don’t try to be clever: don’t think ‘what is the best answer to this question?’ but do think ‘what is the true answer to this question?’. You don’t know what the best answer is, and if you try you are likely to trip yourself up, and are also likely to come across as a bit sneaky.
If you don’t know the answer, say so. If you don’t understand the question, say so.
Make it easy for yourself!
It’s sometimes a good idea to think about what things are like from the tribunal’s point of view.
Remember that they are doing these things all the time, day in, day out. Appeal hearings are routine for them. They arrive in the morning and know that they have a day’s worth of appeals to work through. Depending on the type of appeal and the expected complexity they may have as little as 20 minutes to determine some cases. It is very unlikely that, from their point of view, there is anything unusual or special about your case.
They (hopefully) take their role seriously, and (hopefully) aim to make a just and fair decision in every case. But, when all’s said and done, they are only human and, like anyone else doing a job, they basically want to get the day’s work done with the minimum of fuss and go home again.
It’s also very important to remember the limits of the tribunal’s powers. Its job is very simple: it has to decide whether the decision that the you are appealing again was right, or wrong, and, if it was wrong, what the decision should be, taking into account all the relevant laws. That’s all.
- They can’t move the goalposts if the law treats you unfairly;
- They can’t award compensation if they think that the DWP, or whoever, treated you badly;
- They can’t give you special treatment, however terrible your past has been or how bad your life is now;
- They can’t change decisions that are not the one being appealed against.
It follows from all this that if you can do anything to make their job easier, you should: it’s in your interests. Two things are likely to result:
- The tribunal will be able to understand you case clearly;
- The tribunal will be happier, and will like you more.
So: how can you make them happier?
Here are some things you need to do:
- DO prepare your case well, if you can
- DO try to get any written documents to them at least a week before the hearing
- DO get to the hearing on time
- DO listen to each question and truthfully answer the question that they have asked you
- DO be polite
- DO be straight with them
Here are some things you need to avoid:
- DON’T arrive late at the hearing (they don’t have to wait for you, and if they do wait for you they’ll be annoyed)
- DON’T give them piles of extra documents on the day of the hearing
- DON’T take your anger out on them (they didn’t make the decision you’re appealing about)
- DON’T give long speeches about how bad your life is, or how badly the government has treated you
- DON’T swear!