There are a lot of things for you to do over the next few months. It is important to start preparing as soon as you can. Some things can take a long time.
If you have not already tried to get help and advice do so now (See ‘How to find an adviser' on How to decide what to do). Some advisers may be able to help do some of this preparation for you. If you are lucky enough to find someone who can help with the preparation, make sure you are clear which things your adviser is going to do for you, and which you need to do yourself.
When will the hearing be?
Usually you won't get told the date of the hearing until 2-3 weeks before (you should be given at least 14 days’ notice unless you agreed to be given less on the form). However, it is useful to know how long you have to prepare for your appeal. You can phone the tribunal centre dealing with your appeal and ask them. They will be able to give you a rough idea. You may get re-routed to a call centre who then asks the tribunal centre to call you back later.
If you are not getting any professional help to prepare for the hearing, you might want to ask somebody else to help you. You may not need any help, but it might stop it from feeling too stressful. This is particularly useful if you are not very good with paperwork or deadlines. If you do think it might be useful, think about who you could ask - do you have a family member, friend, or someone who helps you who is good with paperwork and organising things?
Online and other support groups can sometimes be very helpful. There may be other people who have had the same problems getting DLA for their children, who can give you emotional or practical help.
The papers from the DWP
Look at the big pack of papers that you were sent by the DWP explaining why they made the decision they did. Many people get very confused by the inclusion of test cases at the beginning. Don’t let them put you off. If you don’t have time to become an expert on all the legal ins and outs of DLA decisions, ignore these.
The most important parts are the bits about your child. Read through it and look for anything you don't agree with. If your child had a medical assessment did the assessor ask you the right questions and listen to your answers? If their illness or disability is better or worse on different days, did the doctor understand that? If there is a report from your child’s school, does it give a fair picture of your child? School staff tend to be wonderfully positive about children’s abilities and progress and sometimes the DWP fail to understand the context (for example, that your child is making progress but that this is because they receive one-to-one help or are in a specialist school). School staff have usually been accurate but the limited nature of the form often leads to the DWP giving the wrong award. Make a note of all the things that are wrong. If you can, say why they are wrong. You can include this in your statement to the tribunal. Also think about how you could get further evidence (from the school for example) that would give a fairer picture.
Check also that everything you want the tribunal to read is in the papers. If anything is missing, send in a copy before the hearing. Don’t assume that the appeal panel will have access to evidence used in previous claims. If it isn’t included in these papers from the DWP, the appeal panel won’t see it unless you send it in.
Before you ask anybody for evidence – read this!
You are appealing the decision the DWP made on a particular date (on the top of the letter). You need to prove how your child’s condition was at that time, not how it is now. Write the date of the decision you are appealing in the box on p x, before you ask anybody for evidence. Then show them Guide to writing useful evidence for Disability Living Allowance appeals.
For most people, the thing that is of most help is written evidence from their child’s paediatrician, support staff, or school staff. If your child sees a psychologist, physiotherapist, an occupational or speech and language therapist, other healthcare professional, or has a social worker, evidence from them will often be very useful too. If your GP knows your child well, evidence from them is likely to be very helpful too.
The best evidence will come from people who know your child well and who understand their situation. If your child’s paediatrician or GP does not know them well, you should still ask them for evidence, but try to get evidence from other professionals who know them better. This could be another doctor, or other healthcare professional, or somebody who helps your child at school.
The most useful evidence will explain how your child’s illness or disability affects them, and the help they need. This is quite unusual, so your doctor or therapist may not understand that. Look at Guide to writing useful evidence for Disability Living Allowance appeals. This is a guide for your child’s doctors, therapists, school staff, or anybody else writing evidence for them. When you ask them for evidence to support the appeal, show them this page. It will help them to write evidence that will be really helpful to you.
Paying for medical evidence
GP's and other medical professionals are allowed to charge for evidence. However, many won't do this if they know you cannot afford it.
If your doctor suggests that he or she will charge you, tell them that you only need a brief note from them, and that it could be hand-written if this is quicker. Reassure them that it will only take the time of an appointment. Show them Guide to writing useful evidence for Disability Living Allowance appeals - so that they are sure of what you need from them.
If they insist on charging you, think carefully about it. If it helps to get you more benefit, it will have been a good investment. But often the reason they are insisting on charging you is that they really don’t want to do the letter, so if they write one they may not try very hard and it may not be very helpful. If you are considering paying, ask them to confirm that they will write a genuinely helpful letter following our guidance on Guide to writing useful evidence for Disability Living Allowance appeals.
Evidence you already have
Think too about what evidence you already have. Do you have reports of physiotherapy, occupational health, or psychological assessments? Do you have copies of letters that the different doctors and therapists have sent to each other? Does your child have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP - this is the new name for a ‘Statement’)? Did you have a needs assessment from the local council? They are likely to be very helpful.
Or is there other evidence you could get easily? For example, if your child is registered as blind or partially sighted, you can get a copy of their registration from the social services. These usually detail how much your sight is impaired and so are very useful.
Evidence from somebody that helps your child regularly
If there is somebody who helps your child a lot (this might be someone who helps them at school, a support worker, or paid carer), they may be able to write some very useful evidence too. Ask them to write a letter to the tribunal panel explaining what help they give your child and how often. Show them the guidance on Guide to writing useful evidence for Disability Living Allowance appeals - it may help them to remember everything.
If they would prefer, they can keep a diary of the help they give instead.
You should think about keeping a diary of the extra help you give your child each day. It will help the tribunal panel to get a proper understanding of the situation. It is particularly helpful if your child’s condition isn't the same every day. Keep a diary for a month if you can (but a shorter time will also be helpful). It can be very brief. For example - 'Monday - Shaking very bad today. She needed help to fasten her clothes, and get downstairs. Couldn’t walk to school so had to take her in car. Needed soothing and physical help to get to car.’
If you are appealing a decision which relates to your child’s ability to walk it is a good idea to record how far they are able to walk without severe discomfort, and how long it takes them. The tribunal will often ask quite specific questions about how far they are able to walk.
Write a statement
If you (or someone who could help you) are good with writing, you should think about writing a statement. These can be very useful as they set out all the points you want to make, which means that you don't have to remember everything to say on the day. They also give the panel time to think about what you’ve said and why your child should be getting a higher rate, before they meet you. If you can, send it in in advance.
For more advice on how to write a statement and what to put in it, see How to write a statement for DLA. You can also read Andrea’s statement about Alfie and see what she put in hers.
What to do with the evidence
Read all the evidence through - does it support your case? If it doesn't, you don't have to send it to the panel (but if they ask if you had any evidence you didn't send them, you have to tell the truth). If you don't think the evidence is useful it may be worth going back to the person who wrote it and discussing it with them. Is there anything they can add?
If you've got useful evidence, photocopy it and send it into the HM Courts and Tribunal Service before your hearing. Ideally, send it at least a week in advance. On the day of your hearing, take your copies with you, and ask the panel to confirm that they have received them.
Work out how you will get to the hearing
Work out how you will get there and how long it will take the day beforehand. The last thing you need is to add to your stress by getting lost, not being able to park, or being late.
It is best not to take your children to the hearing with you. In fact, if they are with you, they will usually not be allowed into the hearing. Organise childcare for the time of the hearing, and try to leave yourself plenty of time so that you don’t have a problem if the hearing is delayed (it often will be). If it will cost you, get a note from the carer/childminder confirming their rate – you will be able to reclaim expenses up to the national minimum wage.
Work out what you need to claim expenses
You can claim travel expenses for the day of the hearing if you use public transport or travel by car. You can also claim for a meal if you are away for more than five hours. If you have to take time off work, you may also be able to claim expenses for loss of earnings. And if you have had to pay a carer or childminder you can claim expenses up to the National Minimum Wage for the time you have been away.
Before you go to your hearing, check what the current rules on expenses are on GOV.UK.
The clerk will help you fill in a claim form when you go to the hearing. Make sure you take receipts for your travel and lunch. If you have lost earnings, make sure you have a letter from your employer confirming this.
Contact the tribunal before the hearing if you need help.
Make notes of all the things you want to say on the day
This is really useful and also stops the hearing or the preparation for it from getting too stressful. Every time you think of something they got wrong or you don’t think they properly understood, make a quick note of it. Remember to take these with you to the hearing so that you can tick them off as you say them. This might be particularly useful if you haven’t written a statement.