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
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.
- 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
Notes on How to Apply for Leave to Appeal / Appeal to a Commissioner
If you think that the Tribunal decision in your case is wrong you may wish to appeal or apply for leave (that is, permission) to appeal. These notes are designed to tell you how to do so.
Please read the notes carefully. They set out the steps involved and answer some questions you may have. 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.
Before you can appeal to a Commissioner
1. You should ask for a written statement of the Tribunal's reasons for its decision, and then:
2. Apply to the Tribunal Chairman or Legally Qualified Panel Member for leave to appeal.
There are strict time limits for applying for the written statement and for leave to appeal which are explained elsewhere in this guide.
Your chances of appealing may be lost or seriously prejudiced if you do not ask for and obtain a written statement before you apply for leave or if you fail to meet the time limits.
3. When you hear from The Appeal Service (T.A.S.) with the Chairman's or Legally Qualified Panel Member's decision on your application for leave to appeal, complete the relevant parts of the OSSC1 form and send it to the Commissioners' Office at the address given at the end of that form.
Remember you must have asked the Tribunal Chairman or Legally Qualified Panel Member for leave to appeal before you can go to the Commissioner.
If you have not done this you should do so by contacting the T.A.S. Office that issued your Tribunal decision without delay. If you have a form from T.A.S. for applying for leave to appeal, use it to make your application. If you do not have such a form, contact T.A.S. immediately.
If the Chairman or Legally Qualifed Panel Member grants leave
If you have applied to the Chairman or Legally Qualified Panel Member and he or she has granted you leave, you may appeal to a Commissioner using Sections A B C & E of the form. The Commissioners' Office must receive your appeal within one month of the date you were sent the letter telling you that the Chairman or Legally Qualified Panel Member had granted leave.
If you are appealing to a Commissioner outside the one month time limit you will also have to complete Section D of the form. It will be up to the Commissioner whether or not to allow your appeal to proceed even though you are late.
If the Chairman or Legally Qualified Panel Member refuses leave or rejects your application
If the Chairman or Legally Qualified Panel Member has refused you leave or rejected your application for leave you may apply to the Commissioner for leave. Do this by completing Sections A B C & E of the form. You have one month after the notice of refusal or rejection was sent to you by T.A.S. to apply to a Commissioner. If you are applying to a Commissioner outside this time limit you must also complete Section D of the form explaining why you are late.
A Commissioner will decide whether or not to allow your application for leave to appeal to proceed even though you are late.
If a Commissioner grants leave
If a Commissioner grants you leave you do not usually need to do anything more as your case will progress to the next stage in the Commissioners' Office automatically. The Commissioners' Office will write to you if there is anything more you need to do.
If a Commissioner refuses leave
If a Commissioner refuses leave you cannot appeal against the determination.
You should send certain documents with the form when you send it in to the Commissioners' Office. Please see Section E of the form. It tells you about the additional documents.
There are time limits for applying to T.A.S. for the additional documents. You should request the written statement of reasons, within one calendar month from the date on which the Tribunal decision notice was given or sent to you. If you were present at the hearing the decision notice was probably given to you on the day. It is usually a brief form giving the result of your appeal.
You must apply for leave to appeal from the Tribunal Chairman or Legally Qualified Panel Member within one month from the date the written statement of reasons was sent to you, The record of proceedings must be requested within six months of the date of the Tribunal decision. Do not delay your application if you are only waiting for a copy of the record of proceedings.
Do I have to pay any money to the Commissioners' Office for appealing to the Commissioner?
Notes for completion of Form OSSC1
- Sections A B C & E should be completed for all applications.
- If you are applying outside the time limit you must also complete Section D.
- Please note the additional information contained in Section E which tells you about additional documents that should be sent with the form.
- This link provides guidance on how to apply for leave to appeal/appeal to a Commissioner (PDF)
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 B 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 Social Development 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 DetailsOffice of the Social Security Commissioner and Child Support Commissioners 2nd Floor Royal Courts of Justice Chichester Street Belfast BT1 3JF
Tel: 0300 200 7812
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.
Communities NI. The benefit law 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.
The Office of Public Sector Information
Northern Ireland Legislation
Ministry of Justice
Child Maintenance Service
Northern Ireland Housing Executive:
Law Centre (NI)
Northern Ireland Association of Citizens Advice Bureau
The Housing Rights Service
E.U. Legislation & Materials
European Court of Justice
European Court of Human Rights: www.echr.coe.int
Republic of Ireland
Department of Social Protection: www.welfare.ie