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How to challenge an unfair decision by government

Decisions by government (both local and national) have a real impact on civil society organisations. Whether it's a decision to withdraw funding, a new policy direction, or future service provision for your beneficiaries it is important to make sure that these decisions are fair. This how-to sets out how you can identify what makes a decision unfair and provides some tips on how you can challenge it.


Identify what the decision is you want to challenge

It might sound obvious but if you want to challenge a decision then you need to be clear about what that decision is. For example, if you are an organisation that wants to challenge a decision made by your local council to withdraw your funding then you need to be specific about which part you think is unfair e.g. is it lack of consultation, that insufficient notice has been given to you, or that the council hasn’t followed their own guidance?

The more you can be specific about and articulate clearly what it is you want to challenge, the easier it will then be to gather evidence and build a persuasive case.


Work out why the decision is unfair

This is the most important, and potentially trickiest, part of the process. When we talk about ‘unfair’ decisions what we mean are decisions that are made in an unfair way, not whether the decision is itself right or wrong. Continuing with the example of an organisation having their funding cut, to demonstrate unfairness it is not enough to say ‘it’s unfair to withdraw our funding’, instead you have to show that there is something else wrong e.g. that the decision was made without proper consultation, or with too short notice. 

So, the next question is – how do you know what’s unfair and what isn’t? There are a number of sources and guidelines which set out how public bodies (including local authorities and central government) should act. If you can show that the decision you’re not happy with has breached some of these guidelines and commitments then you can make a case to show that the decision is unfair and should be changed.  

The key resource to look at to determine whether a decision is unfair is the Compact.


Gather the evidence

By pulling together all the relevant evidence you’ll be best placed to demonstrate what your concerns are about the decision. Copies of letters, documentation, notes of meetings, and references to your local Compact etc. will all be useful so you can build up a persuasive case. Putting a chronology of events together is often a worthwhile exercise so you can clearly set out what’s happened when.


Have a clear 'ask' and objective

Having identified how and why the decision is unfair, you then need to have a clear ‘ask’ which sets out what you want to achieve. It is worth taking some time to think about this to make sure that your objective is realistic and achievable. For example, if your funding is withdrawn giving you only 1 months’ notice – and you identify that your local Compact states that you should have a minimum of 3 months’ notice – what should your ‘ask’ be? Remember, the points above about what decisions are unfair: you can’t use the Compact to say ‘it’s unfair our funding has been cut, we should have it reinstated for the year’, but you can use it as a basis for asking that you should receive funding for 3 months.

Keep it simple, keep it clear, and make a direct link between why you think the decision is unfair and what you want to achieve.


Who do you need to influence?

To be successful for any campaign it is essential to have identified who you need to influence – the key person who has the power to overturn or change the decision that you have identified is unfair. You will have to do this on a case by case basis, as different decisions and scenarios will require you to target different individuals or job roles. For some decisions which affect only your organisation it may be that the most appropriate person to speak to in the first instance is your contract officer. In other circumstances, such as larger scale policy decisions, then it may be that you need to direct your concerns to the Chief Executive or identify Councillors who were involved in passing the decision.

Further information

The Compact Advocacy Programme at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations programme provides advice and information on poor practice affecting voluntary sector organisations by both local and national government, and advocates on your behalf to challenge unfair decisions. Call our advice line on 020 7520 2460 or email for help or support.


Page last edited Jul 25, 2017 History

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