The Social Security Administration (SSA) used to allow disability applicants who were denied disability benefits at the hearing level to file a new initial application and submit an appeal for the old application to the Appeals Council at the same time.
But because having somebody with multiple applications at different stages of the disability determination process causes unnecessary confusion—such as submitting new evidence for an SSDI reconsideration and an Appeals Council review simultaneously—the SSA has disallowed the practice under Social Security Ruling 11-1p.
After receiving an unfavorable decision from an administrative law judge (ALJ), Social Security now requires you to choose between filing a new disability application or appealing your claim to the Appeals Council. When appealing, you must send a request for a review of the judge's decision to the Appeals Council. For more information, see our overview of the appeal process.
If you do file a new application after requesting an Appeals Council review, Social Security will automatically forward the application to the Appeals Council to be combined with your existing case.
You can submit new and material evidence to the Appeals Council—for example, doctors' notes documenting that your condition is getting worse or an MRI showing a new impairment. Evidence is new and material when it wasn't part of your disability case file before the judge's decision, but could have changed the outcome of your case if the ALJ had known about it.
If the new evidence relates to the period before the ALJ made their decision, the Appeals Council will consider it. But if the new evidence relates to the period starting after the ALJ decision, the Appeals Council won't consider the additional evidence and will return it to you with a notice about why it was rejected. You'll then need to wait for the Appeals Council to finish reviewing your case before you can start a new disability application.
If you file a new application within six months of receiving a denial notice from the Appeals Council, the date of your request for review to the Appeals Council will be used as your filing date for the new application. Your filing date can affect whether you are eligible for SSDI and how much back pay you will get, so it can be essential to have this early "protective filing date."
Social Security's change in procedural rules put disability applicants at a disadvantage. A pending action at the Appeals Council level may take many months to a year to complete. In the past, a disability applicant could repeat the entire application process—including submitting new evidence at the reconsideration level for an SSDI claim or being scheduled for a new ALJ hearing— before getting a response from the Appeals Council on the old application.
Does it make sense now to file an appeal with the Appeals Council rather than filing a new application? This is a question that you should decide with the help of your lawyer or representative. The Appeals Council can only overturn an ALJ's decision or send the case back to an ALJ hearing (called a remand) in certain circumstances, such as:
An experienced disability lawyer will have a better sense of whether you have a chance at winning an appeal from the Appeals Council or whether it makes sense to start your application over.
If you're interested in hiring a lawyer to help with your appeal, read our article on finding a legal professional to help you with your disability claim.
Updated March 23, 2023