Applying for Social Security benefits is challenging for any applicant, particularly if suffering from a disability. In many cases, the applicant needs a representative to assist with the process and to pursue, if necessary, an appeal of a denial of benefits. Although attorneys can help, federal law allows anyone -- family member or friend -- to represent a claimant. The law also allows qualified persons who aren't licensed attorneys to engage in the business of representing applicants before the Social Security Administration.
SSA Basic Requirements
The SSA sets a few broad requirements for representing a claimant. If you have the ability to give valuable help to a claimant and have a good character and reputation, you can act as a Social Security representative. The claimant must appoint you as representative in writing, using the SSA's Form 1696, which you must also sign. If the SSA determines that you lack the qualifications to help the claimant, it can reject your appointment. The SSA also rejects as representatives anyone previously disqualified or suspended from dealing with the SSA or otherwise prohibited by law.
Education and Skills
Although the SSA sets no specific educational requirements, a qualified representative is likely to have a bachelor's degree. A qualified representative's work history and training should include acquiring familiarity with medical records and legal regulations. You can accomplish this in a variety of ways, such as working as a paralegal or insurance adjuster dealing with personal injury claims. People skills are also important for a representative, particularly as they relate to working with disabled persons. A degree and training focused on social work can help develop these skills.
Before representing a claimant, you must become familiar with the Social Security program rules for applying, pursuing and, if necessary, appealing a claim for benefits. Program rules come from several sources: federal law and regulations, rulings by the SSA commissioner and the SSA's employee operating manual. All of these sources are available through the SSA's website. Private companies offer training programs specializing in representing Social Security claimants as well as how to establish your own business. As with many occupations, working for an existing company that represents claimants is a good way to learn the business.
Understanding the SSA's payment rules for claimant representatives is important to the success of your business. Generally, you can't collect any payment for your services from the claimant without the SSA's approval. Although you can accept money for your services in advance, the money must remain in an escrow or trust account until the SSA approves payment. You can't charge a fee higher than the amount authorized by the SSA. Violating these rules can result in suspension or disqualification from representing claimants before the SSA.