Notice of a Decision for a Social Security Disability Case

How you'll be notified about Social Security's decision on your disability benefits depends on what stage of the application process you’re in.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

If you've applied for Social Security disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will send you a written notice once a decision has been made on your claim. What kind of letter you'll get will depend on several factors, such as:

  • whether this is an initial claim or an appeal, and
  • whether Social Security decides in your favor or denies your claim.

Whether you're waiting for a decision on your initial SSDI or SSI disability claim or an appeal, Social Security will always send you a written notice of the outcome. After your initial disability claim is decided, you'll get either a "Notice of Award" or a "Notice of Denial." If you've appealed your case and have been in front of a judge, you'll receive a "Notice of Decision."

Disability Decision at the Initial Application and Reconsideration Stages

Whether or not you win your initial disability claim, Social Security will notify you in writing. You'll receive the same type of notification letter after an initial determination and after a "reconsideration" (the first level of appeal).

What Happens If Your Disability Claim Is Approved?

If you're awarded benefits at the initial disability claim or reconsideration level (the first level of appeal), you'll receive a "Notice of Award." The letter will explain your benefits, including:

  • the amount of your monthly disability benefit
  • the amount of any past-due benefits, and
  • when you should receive these checks.

What Happens If Social Security Denies Your Initial Claim?

If your benefits are denied, you'll receive a "Notice of Denial," which will include information about the following:

  • why your claim was denied
  • the evidence used to make the decision
  • the rationale used to decide your claim, and
  • your right to appeal.

What If You Get a "PERC" Notice?

Social Security might send a letter saying you've met the medical requirements for disability but that your claim is being sent back to your local Social Security office to determine if you still meet the non-medical requirements. If you get a notice like this, you might need to answer some questions to verify your eligibility at what's called a "Pre-Effectuation Review Contact" or PERC interview.

The non-medical requirements for Social Security disability benefits that might need to be verified include the following:

  • For SSDI:
    • whether you're working above the SGA limit, and
    • whether you‘ve worked recently enough in a job that was required to pay FICA taxes into the Social Security system.
  • For SSI:
    • whether your income (both earned and unearned) is still below the SSI income limit, and
    • whether the amount you own in countable assets falls below the SSI asset limit.

If Social Security finds that you still fulfill the eligibility requirements for SSDI and/or SSI after this review, the SSA will then send you a Notice of Award.

(Learn more about the non-medical requirements for SSDI and SSI.)

Social Security Decision Letter After Your Disability Hearing

If you win your Social Security or SSI disability case after a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ), you will receive a "Notice of Decision" letter from the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). (This office was formerly known as the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, or ODAR.)

How Long Does It Take Social Security to Make a Decision After a Hearing?

After waiting a year or more to have your hearing before the administrative law judge, you'll no doubt be anxious to learn the judge's decision. But you won't know whether or not you've won your appeal immediately after your disability hearing. How long it takes for a decision on your appeal will vary from hearing office to hearing office and from judge to judge due in part to differences in caseloads.

You could receive a Notice of Decision in as little as 30 days, or it could take a few months. The average wait time is around eight weeks. You can check the status of your appeal online by signing into your "my Social Security" account.

What Happens If the ALJ Approves Your Disability?

If the Notice of Decision says you're disability benefits have been approved, it's called a favorable hearing notice. The judge's decision could be fully favorable or partially favorable.

A partially favorable decision means the ALJ agrees that you qualify for disability benefits but disagrees about when you became disabled. This will likely affect your back pay and retroactive benefits.

With a fully favorable decision, the ALJ agrees that:

  • you're disabled, and
  • you became disabled when you said you did.

Here's a sample of a fully favorable Notice of Decision.

After you get the decision notice, Social Security will send you a "Notice of Award." This is the letter that tells you how much your benefits will be and when you can expect the money.

What If the ALJ Denies Your Disability Claim?

If the ALJ denies your disability benefits after a hearing, you'll receive an unfavorable decision notice. This notice will contain the following information:

  • explanation of why the judge denied your claim
  • the medical and non-medical records that were used to come to a decision, and
  • a list of your impairments that were evaluated.

The "Notice of Decision – Unfavorable" will also inform you of your right to appeal and tell you how to request an Appeals Council review.

(Learn more about what happens after your disability hearing.)

Updated January 20, 2023

Talk to a Disability Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Boost Your Chance of Being Approved

Get the Compensation You Deserve

Our experts have helped thousands like you get cash benefits.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you