Office of Social Security Commissioners and Child Support Commissioners

The Social Security Commissioners and Child Support Commissioners are the specialised members of the judiciary appointed to hear and determine appeals on points of law from Appeal Tribunals under the Social Security and Child Support legislation.

What do we do?

The Social Security Commissioners and Child Support Commissioners are the specialised members of the judiciary appointed to hear and determine appeals on points of law from Appeal Tribunals under the Social Security and Child Support legislation.

The Social Security cases include appeals on a claimant's entitlement to benefits, tax credits and housing benefit. The Child Support cases are concerned with questions relating to child support maintenance. The Commissioners also have jurisdiction to deal with questions arising under the Forfeiture (Northern Ireland) Order 1982.

Their work involves giving interpretations of the law which are binding on the administrative, adjudication and Tribunal Systems at the levels below them, and remedying procedural injustices in those systems.

The Commissioners operate at a level comparable to High Court Judges in that appeals from their decisions are to the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal and thence to the Supreme. Cases involving European Union Law may be referred by the Commissioners direct to the European Court of Justice.

The Commissioners are assisted by a Legal Officer who is authorised by the Lord Chancellor to issue directions and interlocutory rulings in individual cases, although all final decisions are given by Commissioners.

Appeals may be brought before a Commissioner only on questions of law. Guidance about bringing applications or appeals is detailed in the How To section further down this page. You can download an application/appeal form here.

Most appeals are determined on paper without a hearing, but the parties may ask for a hearing and sometimes Commissioners direct a hearing even if one has not been requested.

Hearings mainly take place, at the Commissioners' Office in Belfast but can also be heard in court buildings throughout Northern Ireland.

The Commissioners are independent of the United Kingdom Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Civil Service. In particular it is to be stressed that they are independent of the Department for Social Development, the Child Support Agency, the Social Security Agency and the Appeal Tribunals who hear the initial appeals by claimants.

The Northern Ireland Commissioners

Chief Commissioner Kenneth Mullan BA MA PhD

  • Appointed Commissioner 2008 and appointed Chief Commissioner 2011
  • Admitted as Solicitor 1989
  • President of the Pensions Appeal Tribunals
  • Previously full-time Chairman Appeal Tribunals for Northern Ireland.
  • Previously senior lecturer in Law, University of Ulster

Commissioner Odhrán Stockman

  • Appointed Commissioner 2011
  • Admitted to the Bar 1987
  • Previously appointed Part time Chairman Appeal Tribunals for Northern Ireland 2002
  • Previously appointed Deputy President Pensions Appeal Tribunal 2011

Deputy Commissioners:

The following were formerly appointed as Commissioners for Great Britain, are current Judges of the Upper Tribunal (AAC) and in addition appointed Deputy Commissioners for Northern Ireland

  • Judge Christopher Ward (reappointed 2016)
  • Judge Alan Gamble (reappointed 2016)
  • Judge Nicholas Wikeley (appointed 2016)
  • Judge Paula Gray (appointed 2016)
  • Judge Edward Mitchell (appointed 2016)

The Commissioners have the power to delegate certain functions to:

  • Mr Niall McSperrin LLB, Solicitor
  • Legal Officer to the Commissioners
  • Registrar to the Upper Tribunal

Past Commissioners

  • Chief Commissioner His Honour Judge Martin QC
  • Mrs Commissioner Brown LLB
  • Mr Commissioner McNally LLM (QUB) LLM (UU)
  • Chief Commissioner His Honour Judge Chambers QC
  • Chief Commissioner Blair QC
  • Chief Commissioner Reid QC
  • The Right Honourable Mr Commissioner McConnell (Lord McConnell)
  • Mr Commissioner Moody QC
  • Mr Commissioner Belford QC

General Information on How to Apply for Leave to Appeal / Appeal to a Commissioner

The role of the Commissioner is to decide whether the decision of a tribunal contains an error of law. If it contains an error of law, the Commissioner can set aside the decision and direct that a new tribunal should decide the appeal, or else the Commissioner can make the decision that the tribunal should have made.  

A person affected by an appeal tribunal decision can ask the Commissioner to consider whether the tribunal has made an error of law when deciding their case. The way to do this is to appeal to the Commissioner.

Before an appeal can be made to the Commissioner, leave to appeal has to be obtained. Leave to appeal means permission to appeal. Leave to appeal can be granted by the legally qualified member of the tribunal which decided the case. Leave to appeal can also be granted by the Commissioner, if the legally qualified member of the tribunal does not grant leave to appeal. Leave to appeal should normally be granted when an applicant shows that it is arguable that a tribunal has made an error of law.

If an application for leave to appeal has been refused or rejected by the legally qualified member of the tribunal, the OSSC1 form can be used to apply to the Commissioner for leave to appeal.

If leave to appeal has been granted by the legally qualified member of the tribunal, the OSSC1 form can be used to appeal to the Commissioner.

These notes explain how to do this. Please read the notes carefully. They set out the steps involved and answer some commonly asked questions.

Before you can Apply to a Commissioner

You need to obtain three documents from the Appeals Service to submit with your OSSC1 application or appeal. These are:

  1. The decision notice of the appeal tribunal. This is usually given to an appellant on the day of a hearing and is a hand-written statement of the tribunal’s decision. If an appellant did not attend a hearing, it will usually be issued by post shortly after the decision is made.
  2. The statement of reasons for the tribunal’s decision. This has to be specially requested by an appellant from the tribunal. It is prepared by the legally qualified member of the tribunal and should set out the reasons why the tribunal made its decision. It must be requested within a month of the notification of the tribunal’s decision being given or sent to an appellant (but also see Note 1 below).
  3. The decision of the legally qualified member of the tribunal granting or refusing leave to appeal, or rejecting the application. The legally qualified member of the tribunal must be asked to grant leave to appeal within one month of the statement of reasons being issued (but also see Note 2 below). The decision of the legally qualified member will normally be sent in a typed letter from the Appeals Service with the words “COMM 5d” at the bottom.

The Record of the Tribunal Proceedings

Another useful document, which we would ask you to enclose with the OSSC1, is the record of tribunal proceedings. This is normally sent to an appellant along with the statement of reasons for the tribunal’s decision. Even if you do not have a statement of reasons, it is possible to obtain a record of proceedings from the Appeals Service up to six months after the decision of a legally qualified member of the tribunal on an application for leave to appeal. The record of proceedings will usually set out the evidence taken at the hearing before the tribunal.

NB: YOU MUST ASK THE LEGALLY QUALIFIED MEMBER OF THE TRIBUNAL FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL BEFORE YOU CAN APPLY TO THE COMMISSIONER.

If you have not done this, you should do so by making an application to the Appeals Service without delay. If you do not do this, or if you do not include all of the documents named above, a Commissioner can still consider your application, but may not have enough information to determine the case in your favour.

NOTES

Note 1

  • If more than a month has passed since notification of the tribunal’s decision was issued, a legally qualified member of the tribunal may still provide a statement of reasons. This can happen if you request a statement of reasons within three months of the notification of the tribunal’s decision. However, the legally qualified member must be satisfied that special circumstances exist and that it is in the interests of justice to provide the statement of reasons.

Note 2

  • The last date for applying to the legally qualified member for leave to appeal may be later if, after the statement of reasons was issued, the tribunal’s decision is corrected to change an accidental error, or if an in-time application for setting aside of the tribunal’s decision is made and refused.
  • If an application for leave to appeal is made late, a legally qualified member of the tribunal may still accept an application if it is made within one year of the last date for making it, and special reasons exist for accepting it late. If the application is late, or is defective in some way, the legally qualified member may reject the application, rather than refusing or granting the application.

GUIDANCE ON COMPLETING THE OSSC1 FORM

Please read these notes carefully. They set out the steps involved and answer some questions you may have.

Guidance on completing the OSSC1 Form

Form OSSC1 should be used if you do wish to appeal or apply for leave, you can download a PDF version of the form here.

OSSC1 Form - Application to Appeal Leave

FAQs

What must I do before applying to the Commissioner?

Remember you must have asked the Tribunal Chairman or Legally Qualified Panel Member for leave to appeal before you can go to the Commissioner.

Do I have to pay any money to the Commissioners' Office for appealing to the Commissioner?

No.

Can I have someone to help me?

Yes. You can have someone to help with filling in the form, dealing with correspondence and attending any hearing before the Commissioner. Your representative can be a friend etc. Please see Useful Links further down this page for names and web sites of the main organisations which deal with Commissioners’ work.

If you already know the name of the person who will help you with your case please enter the details in Section C of the form.

Will there be a hearing before the Commissioner?

The Commissioner may hold a hearing or may consider that he or she can properly decide the case on the papers. If a hearing is to be held, you and the other parties to the application/appeal (usually the Department for Communities and also, in Child Support cases the other parent) will be notified and have an opportunity to attend. Your representative can come with you. If holding a hearing the Commissioner will try to do so in a reasonably convenient place. The hearing will not be like a court hearing. It will be less formal and you will have an opportunity to make any relevant points in your own words.

If you would like the hearing to be in private you may request this on the form and the Commissioner will decide whether or not to hold a private hearing.

Is appealing to a Commissioner the same as appealing to a Tribunal?

No. You can only appeal to a Commissioner on a point of law. This does not mean that you have to use technical legal language. It does mean that you or your representative must think the Tribunal's decision is wrong in law and explain why you think this is so.

Examples of errors of law are

The Tribunal

  • did not apply the correct law to your case
  • wrongly interpreted the law
  • did not observe the rules of natural justice
  • had no evidence, or not enough evidence, to support its decision
  • did not give adequate reasons for its decision

It is not enough to just repeat one or more of these examples. You should explain on the form why you think the Tribunal has made a mistake in law. For example if you think the Tribunal decision did not give adequate reasons you should explain why this is so and why you do not understand the decision. You can do this in your own words on the form.

It will be helpful to the Commissioner if you explain as fully as you can why you think the Tribunal was wrong in law. If the Commissioner thinks he or she can properly decide your case on the papers he or she may do so. If you explain as fully as possible on the OSSC 1 form it helps the Commissioner to decide

  • whether or not a hearing should be held; and
  • whether or not the Tribunal may have been wrong in law

What should I do if I have missed a time limit?

Do not delay any further. Submit all the documents and evidence you have to hand and explain any reasons for the delay.

What will happen if I win my appeal to the Commissioner?

After your appeal the Commissioner will send you a written decision. If you have won the appeal the Commissioner will set the Tribunal decision aside. He or she may then either give the decision which the Tribunal should have given, or send back the matter to another Tribunal to re-hear and re-decide your case.

It should be noted that staff in the Office of the Social Security Commissioners and Child Support Commissioners can help you by explaining the process to you but cannot give you legal advice.

Contact Details

Office of the Social Security Commissioner and Child Support Commissioners
2nd Floor
Royal Courts of Justice
Chichester Street
Belfast
BT1 3JF

Tel:  0300 200 7812

Email: tribunalsunit@courtsni.gov.uk

Useful Links

The following links are intended as a starting point for obtaining information about the law involved in Commissioners' cases. Claimants are reminded that they can seek help and representation from a number of sources A list of organisations where help can often be obtained is found in our Notes for Guidance elsewhere on this web site. There are links to some of those organisations below.

Copies of the reported decisions are available for public use on request at social security offices.

Your local library may have copies of the bound volumes of reported decisions of the GB and Northern Ireland Commissioners and copies of any specific decision by a Commissioner can be obtained on request from this office.

Case Law

Communities NI. The Law and Legislation section of this site is maintained by the Decision Making Services Unit of the Dept for Social Development and contains decisions, both reported and unreported, of the Northern Ireland Commissioners.

The Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals). This is the site maintained by the UK Tribunals Service and contains many decisions of the Upper Tribunal and of its predecessors the GB Commissioners

British and Irish Legal Information Institute. This is a site giving free access to a range of case law and legislation.

Legislation

The Office of Public Sector Information

UK Legislation

Northern Ireland Legislation

Useful Sites

Ministry of Justice

Child Maintenance Service

Northern Ireland Housing Executive

Advice

Advice NI

Law Centre (NI)

Northern Ireland Association of Citizens Advice Bureau

Rights Net

The Housing Rights Service

European Union

E.U. Legislation & Materials

European Court of Justice

Human Rights

Republic of Ireland

 

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