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Social Security Case Law - Summer 2024

Summaries of recent cases on social security law and practice.

HT v Department for Communities [2024] NICom 9

You can read the full judgment ‘here‘.


The finality of decisions and the difference between ‘entitlement to’ and ‘in receipt of’.


The appellant claimed Income Support from 29 May 2001. From August 2011 her entitlement to Income Support had been premised on being a carer for her son, who was in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). She also received Carer’s Allowance for her son. Her award of Income Support also included a disability premium, as she was personally in receipt of DLA.

However, following the end of both her and her son’s entitlement to DLA and failure to complete a successful application for Personal Independence Payment, her Carer’s Allowance and Income Support were impacted and stopped. The appellant in two joined appeals submitted that the Tribunal erred in law in relation to the official ending dates for each benefit and therefore the disallowance of the appellant’s Carer’s Allowance and Income Support claims were invalid. It was also submitted that the Tribunal erred in law when it declined jurisdiction and failed to address the matters raised.

Legal Issue

There is a difference between the concept of being entitled to benefit and being in receipt of benefit. Whether someone is entitled to a benefit is a question of law. Whether they are in receipt of benefit is a question of fact. Was the Tribunal incorrect in failing to address the issues as they fell outside their jurisdiction, and if so, did this amount to an error in law? Additionally, it had to be determined whether the Department’s failure to comply with a legislative requirement, i.e. the time period to make a new claim for Personal Independence Payment, was an error in law that led to unfairness.

Relevant Legislation

  • Section 123 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act (NI) 1992
  • Regulation 4ZA of the Income Support (General) Regulations (NI) 1987 (the IS Regulations)
  • Welfare Reform (NI) Order 2015
  • Personal Independence Payment (Transitional Provisions) Regulations (NI) 2016 (the Transitional Regulations)
  • Article 13 of the Social Security (NI) Order 1998
  • Article 17 of the Social Security (NI) Order 1998

Relevant Case Law

  • London & Clydeside Estates Ltd v Aberdeen District Council [1980] 1 WLR 182

Failure to comply with a legislative requirement does not automatically result in a decision becoming a nullity.

  • R v Soneji [2005] UKHL 49 and Public Prosecution Service v McKee [2013] UKSC 32

Agree with London and Clydeside that failures of compliance are seen on a spectrum and the courts have a discretion as to what the consequences that should flow from such failure should be.

  • RS -v- Department of Communities [2021] NI Com 4

Whether or not a procedural failure may be fatal to the actions of a public body entirely depends on context.  Thus, it may be necessary to require strict compliance with statutory requirements placed on the Department where there is a particularly punitive consequence for a claimant.


It was held that a failure to comply with a legislative requirement does not automatically result in a decision being nullified – rather failures are at the court’s discretion to decide their severity and consequence. In this case, the appellant was seen to essentially be criticising the facts that the Department gave too much time for permitting a claim for PIP to be made for her son, extending a time limit in the claimant’s interests when it did not have the power to do so. However, it was determined that the failure by the Department was entirely favourable to the appellant’s circumstances and does not amount to an unfairness or error in law.

In relation to jurisdiction, the Commissioner states that the Tribunal in these cases had jurisdiction to decide questions of fact, i.e. whether someone is in receipt of a benefit. The Tribunal was not concerned with the issue of whether the appellant and her son were entitled to DLA or PIP, but the entirely different question of whether they were in receipt of them.

In these cases, the Commissioner observed the principle of finality, and the Tribunal was unable to make a decision on the case because the appellant and her son were not in receipt of the necessary benefits (DLA and PIP) at the material dates under the eligibility conditions for Income Support and DLA. Therefore, as they did not satisfy the conditions of the benefits and the Tribunal did not have jurisdiction to determine matters outside these questions of fact, the Commissioner ultimately granted leave to appeal but disallowed the appeal and did not consider there to be an error in law.