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Claimants told: Be on your toes

PUBLISHED: 14:06 13 July 2001 | UPDATED: 10:20 03 March 2010

PEOPLE across the Suffolk Coastal area have been warned to be on their toes following changes to the way benefits are paid.

PEOPLE across the Suffolk Coastal area have been warned to be on their toes following changes to the way benefits are paid.

The district council – which covers Felixstowe, Woodbridge, Kesgrave and Martlesham Heath – says people could be affected if they need to claim, or are already receiving, housing or council tax benefits.

New Government rules have made it more important than ever people getting these benefits tell the council straightaway if their financial circumstances change – otherwise they could miss out on extra money to which they are entitled.

"There is now a one month time limit on notifying our staff of any change which has resulted in a claimant receiving less money – for example, because their hours or wages have been cut," said Clive Kirk, assistant director of finance (customer services) for Suffolk Coastal.

"If they let us know within a month, then their extra benefits will be paid in full from the day their circumstances changed, but if they wait until after a month we can only pay the extra from the day they tell us.

"It has always been the law that people should notify us in writing of any changes, but now the government has backed it up with a financial incentive."

The rule change does not affect people whose change in circumstances means that they would be entitled to less housing or council tax benefit.

Any reduction in their benefit will continue to be backdated to the day their circumstances changed, and claimants should again contact the council as soon as possible to avoid possibly having to pay back benefits to which they were not legally entitled.

The government has also changed the way people can appeal against decisions taken on their benefits by local councils.

People must now receive a written explanation of the council's decision – a Statement of Reasons – within a month of the original decision although Suffolk Coastal will be aiming to do it within 14 days.

"If you are still unhappy with our decision after reading our explanations, you can ask for a revision within one month which means we will look again at the case and we write back with our final view, which may be the same or could result in a change. The time limit can be extended up to 13 months but only in special circumstances," added Mr Kirk.

A new Independent Social Security Appeals Tribunal – known as the Appeals Service – will take over the reviews. This body already deals with appeals on other state benefits such as income support.

People again have a one-month time limit to tell the council that they want to take their case to the Appeals Service, which will deal with the case in writing or by hearing from the complainant and any witnesses they might want to call.

More details about the new appeals service and the other changes to housing and council tax benefits rules can be obtained by ringing the council's benefits service on 01394 444467.

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