If you have a professional representative, you don’t have to worry about this bit: this is their job. Lucky you!
If not, there’s still no need to worry, but you do need to understand why preparation is important.
You have the chance to provide the tribunal service with documents in support of your appeal before the day of the hearing, and I recommend that you take advantage of this opportunity.
Tribunals are made up of human beings. Surprising, but true. Being human, they want things to be clear, and they want things to be as easy as possible. In particular, they want to you be clear about what you want, and why you disagree with the decision maker. Being human, they also like to be prepared, so it’s a good idea to let you have anything before the day of the hearing (Letters from the tribunal service will ask you to provide extra information at least a week before the hearing: in reality they are more flexible than that, and will even accept new documents on the day, but it’s best to avoid this if you can: the longer and more complex the new documents are the more likely the tribunal is to be unhappy about them).
I recommend that in most cases you provide the following documents:
- A submission - this is a document you write, telling them what you want and why you disagree with the decision maker;
- Additional evidence - Any other documents you have that you think might support your case.
I’ll deal with the evidence first, then look at the submission. But before we do either, I strongly recommend that you look through the appeal bundle and mark things you’re not happy with (you’re allowed to write on the bundle). In particular, read through the report of the ATOS examination and note things you disagree with.
Remember that you are trying to convince the tribunal that you meet the
rules for Employment and Support Allowance. Any evidence that doesn’t help
with this is useless, and, sometimes, annoys the tribunal.
Evidence that might help includes the following:
- A recent letter or report from your GP, or another medical professional, describing your health problems or disabilities. It’s important for them to give details about how severe your problems are: it’s not much use, for example, if they just say you have asthma, but it would be very useful if they said that you had particularly severe asthma that made your life especially difficult and was not being well controlled. It would be nice if they could say which of the descriptors they thought applied to you, but in reality they are unlikely to do this: they are medical experts, not benefits experts
- Documents from other official organisations sometimes help: proof that you’re registered blind, for example, or a letter showing that you have been given high priority for housing, or have been given aids or adaptations for your home.
- A supporting letter from someone who looks after you, if it’s written clearly and gives their perspective about your problems.
- Sometimes, especially if your condition is very variable, a sort of diary written by yourself can be helpful. For example, If you keep stumbling or falling over note these dates, and then write them out in a list.
Evidence that is unlikely to help includes the following:
- Letters or reports from doctors that are very old: the tribunal is not interested in how you were in 1993. There are some exceptions: for example, if you have a very unusual diagnosis of a permanent condition and this isn’t recorded elsewhere, it might be a good idea to show this to the tribunal
- Letters or reports that indicate that you don’t meet the rules: for example, if you are saying you can’t walk more than 50 metres, it’s not much help if your GP says you need to rest after half a mile (If he’s right, you might not have a very good case, but it might just be that he doesn’t know you very well).
- Documents that the Jobcentre Plus already has: ‘sick notes’, for example.
Your submission has a number of jobs to do:
- The main one is to show the tribunal why they should allow your appeal (i.e. why you should win)
- But it also helps you get your thoughts in order before the hearing
- And it saves you from having to remember everything you want to say on the day.
My general advice about how to write your submission is as follows:
- Match your submission to how expert you are, and how good you are at writing. This is really important. If you really struggle with writing, try and find someone you trust who can help.
- Don’t make it too long: it shouldn’t really be more than 2 or 3 pages long, unless it’s a very unusual case.
- Focus on two things: why you think you should win, and why you think the Jobcentre Plus is wrong
In an appeal about whether or not you have limited capability for work, the following things should probably be included:
- A summary of your main health problems and disabilities.
- A record of any recent events that might be relevant, like a hospital appointment or a fall.
- A clear list of which descriptors you think you are entitled to.
- A list of the evidence you have included.
- Spell out the issues you have with the evidence that the Jobcentre Plus has provided, like the medical report from ATOS.
When you’ve finished your submission
- If you can, get someone you trust to check it through for mistakes.
- Send it, with any other evidence you’ve found, to the Tribunal
Service at the address they have given in letters to you: keep a copy!