Judicial Review is a legal process by which it is possible to challenge decisions of all public bodies, including the Child Support Agency. Judicial review is in effect a means by which a decision is examined by the Administrative Court (High Court) in order to see whether the public body made a decision that it did not have the power to make, or the way that the decision was made was wrong.

When the CSA makes a ‘wrong’ decision, this could happen in several ways. The person making the decision could have failed to have proper regard for an important issue, or alternatively put too much emphasis on a matter that was not of particular importance.

In other words, if the way the decision was made was outrageous, nonsensical, or did not apply logic to the extent that ‘no sensible person could have arrived at it’ then this decision could be capable of being reviewed. Decisions can also be challenged on the basis of procedural unfairness.

Judicial Review of CSA casesPurpose of Judicial Review

Judicial review is not an appeals process, in that it does not challenge the outcome of the decision, but rather the way it was made. Once the application for judicial review has been lodged, the court has various powers available to it. It can set aside the CSA’s decision, as well as being able to order the original decision maker to reconsider, or give directions in relation to that decision. The Administrative court also has the power to award damages, but this will only be applicable in situations in which the claimant can prove demonstrable loss. (I.e. that they have actually lost out as a result of the decision.)

Procedure

In the event that a decision is capable of judicial review, it is vital that you seek the advice of a specialist lawyer as early as possible. This is for three reasons:
There are strict time limits on lodging an application in the administrative court. Failure to lodge proceedings in time, and indeed if there is any kind of delay (even if the application is within time) this may prejudice your claim and the court could strike out your case.
Under the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) judicial review proceedings are subject to a strict pre-action protocol, which must be followed before a claim is lodged at the High Court.
There must be no alternative solution to the decision other than judicial review. This means that all other avenues must have been exhausted before you resort to this legal process. IF the decision you are seeking to challenge can be appealed to a tribunal or child support commissioner, then this would be the appropriate method of challenge rather than by way of judicial review.

Challenging Benefits Decisions

There are some CSA decisions that depend on JobCentre Plus. If the non-resident parent receives income based JSA, income related support allowance or income support, then the amount of child support is fixed and it will not be possible to challenge this amount. This is the case even though the non-resident parent may have other income. However, in these circumstances you can raise the issue with the CSA, who report it to JobCentre Plus for investigation. It will then be up to JobCentre Plus to report back to the CSA with its findings. In some circumstances, you may be able to judicially review the JobCentre Plus decision.