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PhD regulations - supervised research

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These regulations apply to students commencing a PhD.

Awards in scope for these regulations

Research degrees at Staffordshire University are governed and awarded by the Graduate School.

Committee (GSC), on behalf of the University’s Academic Board.

The following research degrees are included in these regulations:

  • MPhil: Master of Philosophy
  • PhD: Doctor of Philosophy
  • Professional Doctorate

Only Professional Doctorate awards which meet the QAA Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ) requirements for a level 8 Doctoral Degree, and which are coded by HESA as a research degree, are included in these regulations. Professional Doctorates which are coded as a taught doctorate will be governed by the University’s Postgraduate Taught regulations.

These regulations exclude higher degrees and PhD by Publication.

These regulations will apply to all candidates who first enrol with the University on or after 1st September 2019. Candidates enrolled before this date may be transferred to these regulations if they provide their explicit consent.

Candidates and supervisors should also refer to the PGR handbook or the relevant Professional Doctorate course handbook

Admissions

The admissions process for research degrees will be conducted in accordance with the principles set out in the University’s Admissions Policy.

There will normally be up to three entry points per academic year: September, January and April.

Entry requirements

The entry requirements are as follows, unless otherwise specified (such as in accordance with requirements of an accrediting or professional body):

  • MPhil – normally a minimum of 2:1 in undergraduate degree or equivalent professional experience, to be evaluated based on the application form and interview.

  • PhD – normally a minimum of 2:1 in undergraduate degree and masters-level qualification or equivalent professional experience, to be evaluated based on the application form, research proposal and interview.

The criteria for evaluating a PhD research proposals will include (but not be restricted to): originality of proposed contribution to knowledge; academic fit with the University, access to research resources either on campus or off-site (particularly relevant to applicants for Distance Learning modes of study), the scale and scope of research to be completed according to the timescales of a PhD.

In addition, applicants for creative arts or practice-based research degrees may also be asked to provide a portfolio to be assessed as part of the selection process.

  • Professional Doctorates - normally a minimum of 2:1 in undergraduate degree and masters-level qualification or equivalent professional experience, to be evaluated based on the application form and interview.

  • For international students, the University normally requires a minimum IELTS score of 6.5 overall. Some disciplines may require a higher IELTS score in line with professional and regulatory requirements. Normally, no discipline will accept an overall score below 6.5, with a minimum of 6.0 in no more than one component. Some International students are also required to meet UKVI requirements for the appropriate study visa. A valid ATAS certificate (where required) must be secured as a prerequisite to enrolment.

Appeals of an admission decision

The process and timescales for appeals against admissions decisions for research degrees will be conducted in accordance with the principles set out in the University’s Admissions Policy.

The appeal letter should be sent to the Chair of the Graduate School Committee and the appeal will be heard by the Director of Research, to determine whether there are grounds for the application to be re-considered.

Fees

The fees for research degrees are published on the University’s website.Failure to pay the required fees may result in a candidate’s withdrawal from their course. Details are provided in the University’s Tuition Fee Policy.

Enrolment

All research degree candidates must enrol with the University before they begin their studies. All candidates must re-enrol annually with the University when requested to do so. Upon enrolment (and annual re-enrolment), candidates will be advised of, and asked to acknowledge, any regulation changes.

Periods of registration

The following periods of registration apply:

Table 1: Periods of registration

AwardFull-time entrantsPart-time entrants
 

Minimum1

Maximum

Minimum1

Maximum

MPhil

6 months

12 months

24 months

24 months

PhD

36 months

48 months

72 months

96 months

Professional Doctorate (excluding those professional/regulated courses with adjusted timescales as prescribed in programme

specification)

36 months

48 months

72 months

96 months

The registration periods in table 1 may be varied where this is a requirement of a relevant accrediting or professional body.

Normally, the maximum registration period permitted by the University as outlined in table 1, includes any period of approved absence.

In exceptional circumstances (such as maternity/ parental leave or a period of serious ill health), and with appropriate evidence and prior consent, the Graduate School Committee may pause a
candidate’s period of registration during a break of study, thereby extending the maximum period of registration.

All breaks in study must have prior consent of the University and will require the submission, by the candidate’s supervisor, of a plan for completion within the maximum period of registration which should be deemed satisfactory by the Graduate School Committee. When returning from a break in study, candidates will have the opportunity to review their research plan with their supervisor. The outcome of this review will be submitted to the Graduate School Committee.

Writing up period

Normally, the doctorate should be completed and submitted within the specified 36-month registration period (72 months for part-time candidates) as per table 1. For PhD candidates, completion comprises the submission of the thesis and related documentation (see section below Submission of thesis). For Professional Doctorate candidates, completion comprises the submission of the thesis/portfolio and the successful completion of all taught modules.

For PhD candidates the University will normally allow a ‘writing up’ period of no more than 12 months (full-time programme) or 24 months (part-time programme) for candidates to finish writing and submit their thesis for examination, up to the maximum period of registration shown in table 1, for which candidates will be required to pay a registration fee as determined by the University.

For those on Professional Doctorate programmes, there may be an opportunity for an additional year (full-time) for which candidates will be required to pay a registration fee as determined by the University.

Changing mode of study

Candidates may wish to change their mode of study from full-time to part-time (or vice versa).

Candidates must have prior consent from their supervisor before changing their mode of study and have agreed a realistic plan to complete their studies in a timely manner. This plan will be submitted by the candidate’s supervisor on the template provided and will be reviewed by the Graduate School Committee. Where relevant, approval of changes in mode of study should include consultation between the supervisor and the candidate’s employing organisation.

A candidate’s registration period will be recalculated to reflect their new mode of study. For example: If a candidate commenced their studies full-time and, after 30 months, applied to change to part-time, the remaining 6 months of their full-time registration period will be re-calculated pro- rata (to 12 months) to reflect the change in study mode. The deadline for the submission of the
candidate’s thesis/ portfolio will be recalculated accordingly.

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)

Some professional doctorate candidates may be exempt from studying one or more taught modules because they have demonstrated prior learning in accordance with the University’s RPL procedure. In some cases, these candidates may have a shorter period of registration as set by the Graduate School Committee and calculated pro rata in accordance with table 1, above.

Supervision

Candidates will be allocated a principal supervisor (who will be an employee of University) and a second supervisor or equivalent from an approved list managed by the Graduate School. In some cases, the second supervisor may be external to the University and/or be based in a relevant professional setting.

The principal supervisor should normally have either supervised to successful completion a minimum of one postgraduate research degree at the level they are intending to supervise, or have successfully completed the University’s Research Degrees Supervision Module. An employee of the University who does not meet this requirement may apply to the Graduate School Committee to be appointed as a Principal Supervisor.

Supervision meetings are intended to support the development of the research project (or other work associated with the portfolio), identify developmental needs (e.g. training or resources) and to ensure the research project and doctorate progresses appropriately.

Supervision meetings should be held regularly, and the University expects that normally an average of 10 meetings per annum will be held. These meetings may be held either face-to-face or virtually. For part-time candidates, the University expects supervision meetings to be held regularly and on average five per annum will be held. PSRB requirements for some professional doctorates may specify more regular contact. It is the candidate’s responsibility to keep a record of each supervisory meeting, using the template available [link to be added when available] to record each supervisory meeting.

For candidates who require a visa to study in the UK, the regularity of supervisory contact must be in accordance with UKVI requirements.

Changes to supervision arrangements

There may be circumstances where the University needs to find an alternative supervisor or supervisors (for example if a member of staff leaves the University). Wherever possible, the candidate will be consulted in advance of the change, however in rare cases this may not be possible.

Exceptionally the University will consider an application from a candidate for an alternative supervisor. If a candidate feels a change in supervision is needed, they should approach a senior member of academic staff in their school (or Director of the Professional Doctorate programme) to ask them to liaise on their behalf with the Graduate School.

Training and development

Appropriate training and development opportunities are to be determined in a candidate’s Personal Development Plan (PDP) or course specification for professional doctorates. Candidates and supervisors can select appropriate training from the suite of opportunities offered by the University, as well as relevant external training opportunities.

or PhD students the candidate’s training and development needs will be assessed by the supervisor and supervisee, based on the research project and the candidate’s prior experience. Normally, research degree candidates will undertake at least one research training activity per year. These training and development activities may be internal or external and may include activities such as the following:

  • Applying for external research funding to attend conference or do fieldwork;
  • Presenting at a conference;
  • Presenting a seminar paper;
  • Conducting ethically sensitive research;
  • Professional Competency and practice (particularly relevant for Professional Doctorate programmes).

It is expected that all research degree candidates will undertake research training on the following topics prior to the submission of their thesis/ portfolio:

  • Research methods;
  • Academic writing and critical thinking;
  • Writing up and preparing for the viva examination;
  • Preparing for an academic, or non-academic career.

Professional Doctorate students will normally have a set programme of teaching and assignments to meet the course competencies.

Support may be available for a limited number of external development opportunities (e.g. presenting at a conference) from a Graduate School fund. Access to this fund will be through a competitive application process [link to be added when available] to which all PGRs may apply.

Monitoring progress through your programme

All research degree candidates will undergo regular reviews of their progression throughout their studies. MPhil candidates will have one formal review, as detailed in the section below.

PhD candidates will have three formal reviews, as detailed below. For Professional Doctorates, progress is primarily assessed at the end of taught modules and one formal review during the research stage.

Formal review points in MPhil programmes

For MPhil candidates, the progression review will consist of a submitted portfolio of work and an oral examination by a standing panel of senior researchers in cognate disciplines. Candidates will be required to submit their progression portfolio at least 2 weeks prior to the date of their review.
Progression reviews will be held as outlined in table 2:

Table 2

ReviewMPhil progression review

Timing

5 months (Full-time)

10 months (Part-time)

Descriptor

Submission of a portfolio for examination including:

  •  A summary report detailing the structure of the dissertation, the contribution to knowledge through research questions, a literature review and an outline of the fieldwork/ primary research completed and work still to be undertaken (maximum 5,000 words)

  •  Outcome of ethical review

  •  Timeline and plan for successful completion

  •  Personal and Professional Development plan

  •  One completed chapter of the thesis

Outcomes

  1.  Continue, prepare for submission

  2.  Revise and resubmit (within 2 months (4 months P/T), prepare for submission

  3.  Withdrawal due to insufficient academic progression

Formal review points in PhD programmes

For PhD candidates, progression reviews will consist of a submitted portfolio of work and an oral examination. These progress reviews represent the key progression milestones through the research degree and prepare the candidate for the final thesis submission. Standing progress review panels will be held at set period in the year and candidates will be informed of the timing of their review panel upon induction (for example, a full-time candidate enrolling in September can expect their early progression review in the following July). Candidates will be required to submit their progression portfolio at least 2 weeks prior to the date of their review.

Progression reviews will be held as outlined in table 3:

Table 3

ReviewEarly progression reviewMid-point progression reviewFinal progression review

Timing

10 months (Full-time)

20 months (Part-time)

20 months (FT)

40 months (PT)

30 months (FT)

60 months (PT)

Descriptor

Submission of a portfolio for examination including:

  •  Research proposal, including literature review, research questions, and plan of work, detailing progress to date and including resource needs and proposed methodologies (maximum 5,000 words)

  •  Outcome of ethical review

  •  Timeline and plan for successful completion

  •  Personal and Professional Development plan

Submission of a portfolio for examination including:

  •  Summary report detailing progress in relation to methodology and timescale as agreed at early progression review (maximum 2,500 words)

  •  Two completed drafts of chapters

  •  Outcome of ethical review

  •  Timeline and plan for successful completion

  •  Personal and Professional Development plan

Submission of a portfolio for examination including:

  •  Summary report detailing progress in relation to methodology and timescale as agreed at early progression review (maximum 2,500 words)

  •  Proposed title of thesis

  •  Supervisors to provide proposed examiners (or details of approved examiners) [link to be added when available]

  •  Two completed drafts of chapters (must be different to those submitted at mid-point progression review)

  •  Outcome of ethical review

  •  Timeline and plan for successful completion

  •  Personal and Professional Development plan

At the final progression review, the panel will determine if the candidate is able and likely to submit within the prescribed 36 months (full-time) or 72 months (part-time) registration period. In exceptional circumstances, the panel may agree, providing that there is an acceptable plan in place, to grant a further period of registration for a ‘writing up’ period of no more than 12 months (full- time) or 24 months (part-time).

At any progression review, in exceptional circumstances, the review panel may recommend that the candidate should proceed to prepare a thesis for submission and examination for an MPhil award. This must be submitted within 6 months (12 months part-time) of the progress review.

Any appeals against the progression panel decisions will be considered in accordance with the research degree appeals process (see appeals section below).

Structure and progress of Professional Doctorate awards

On Professional Doctorate programmes, progress is assessed regularly, normally at the end of each module and annually, rather than through the defined progress review points for PhD candidates, as detailed above.

Professional Doctorates will comprise two components:

Component 1 (Taught): Assessed taught modules, developing professional and research skills; to include the development and approval of a proposal for independent research in Stage 2

Maximum of 240 credits, at Level 7 or Level 8. unless otherwise specified in the programme specification based on explicit PSRB requirements

 

Component 2 (Research): Independent, supervised research

May include in addition a practice-based component

Minimum of 300 credits, at Level 8 unless otherwise specified in the programme specification based on explicit PSRB requirements

Normally, these stages run in sequence, and a candidate progresses to stage 2 when stage 1 is completed. However, due to requirements of professional bodies and the needs of certain professions, it is possible in some programmes that component 1 and 2 happen at the same time.

Unless required otherwise by a PSRB, Professional Doctorate candidates will normally undertake a final progression review at 30 months (full-time) or 60 months (part-time). Some professional/regulated professional doctorates may have different timescales, which are detailed in the programme specification. Candidates will be required to submit their progression portfolio at least 2 weeks prior to the date of their review.

Progression reviews will be held as outlined in table 4,

Table 4: Final Progression Review for Professional Doctorate programmes (excluding those with specific PSRB requirements)

ReviewFinal progression review (Professional Doctorate)

Timing

30 months (FT)

60 months (PT)

Descriptor

Submission of a portfolio for examination including:

  •  Summary report detailing progress in relation to methodology and timescale as agreed in approved proposal for independent research (maximum 2,500 words)

  •  Proposed title of thesis/ portfolio

  •  Supervisors to provide proposed examiners (or details of approved examiners) [link to be added when available]

  •  Outcome of ethical review

  •  Timeline and plan for successful completion

  •  Personal and Professional Development plan

Outcomes

  1.  Continue, prepare for submission

  2.  Revise and resubmit (within 2 months (4 months P/T)), prepare for submission

  3.  Revise and resubmit and apply for writing-up period

  4.  Withdrawal due to insufficient academic progression

Submission of thesis

The examination of a research degree comprises two parts:

The submission of a thesis/ portfolio
The successful defence of that thesis/ portfolio in an oral examination (commonly called the viva)

The thesis

It is the candidates responsibility to ensure that the thesis/portfolio format is in accordance with the requirements of the University, as outlined below.

  • The final thesis/ portfolio should not exceed the following word count:

  • PhD: 80,000 words including footnotes (not including tables and appendices)

  • MPhil: 40,000 words including footnotes (not including tables and appendices)

  • Professional Doctorate (thesis/portfolio): 50,000 words including footnotes (not including tables and appendices), or equivalent, as specified in the programme specification.

MPhil and PhD candidates must submit their thesis to the Graduate School administrators on or before their registration expiry date. Professional Doctorate candidates must submit their thesis/ portfolio to the course administrator on or before their registration expiry date.

Candidates must submit one soft-bound copy of their thesis for each examiner (normally two, but sometimes three) and a printed copy of the abstract for the Chair. Candidates must also submit an electronic version of their thesis (PDF or Word document) to the Graduate School administrators (for MPhil and PhD candidates) or the course administrator (Professional Doctorate candidates).

The title page should include the following information: 

  • Full title of the thesis (as approved at the final progression review)

  • Full name of the author;

  • Award for which the degree is submitted in partial fulfilment of its requirements (e.g. PhD, MPhil, DBA etc.);

  • Collaborating Establishment(s)/Validated Partner Institution, if any;

  • Month and year of submission.

The thesis should be:

  • Printed A4 (single- or double-sided printing);

  • Using at least 11-point font;

  • The margin at the left-hand binding edge of the page should not be less than 40mm; other margins should not be less than 15mm

  • Double or 1.5 line spacing must be used, except for indented quotations or footnotes where single spacing may be used;

  • Pages shall be numbered consecutively through the main text. Pages before the start of the main text (abstract, contents page, acknowledgements, etc) should be in Roman Numerals (i, ii, ii, iv).

For Professional Doctorate portfolios there may be additional formatting requirements, for which candidates should consult the course handbook.

Research degree examination

After a candidate submits their thesis/ portfolio, the Graduate School (or course administrators, for Professional Doctorates) will arrange the viva examination.

Examiners

Each research degree candidate will be examined by at least two, and not normally more than three, examiners. One of these examiners will be internal (i.e. an employee of the University) and the other(s) will be external (i.e. an employee of another University). Where the research degree candidate is also employed as a member of staff at the University, there must be two external examiners.

An internal examiner must be an employee of the University and must not be, or have ever been, part of the candidate’s supervisory team. In exceptional circumstances, an Emeritus Professor of the University may act as internal examiner, with prior agreement between the Emeritus Professor and the relevant Head of Department.

An external examiner should normally hold, or have recently held, an academic appointment in another university. Due to the nature of the research project, it may be appropriate to appoint from outside academia (e.g. from industry or professional practice). In such cases two external examiners must be appointed, with at least one having appropriate academic experience.

Due to the requirements of professional or accrediting bodies, examination teams for some Professional Doctorate programmes may have additional requirements for examiners (such as accreditation from professional bodies e.g. HCPC or BPS). Where appropriate, these will be detailed in course handbooks.

External examiners must be independent from the University, the candidate and the supervisory team.

They must not have:

  • acted previously as the candidate’s supervisor or adviser;

  • been a member of staff or student of the University within the last five years;

  • been an employee of a University partner within the last five years;

  • been a member of the University’s Board of Governors within the last five years;

  • been an examiner for a taught course of the University within the last five years;

  • a close personal connection with or be a close working colleague with any member of the supervisory team;

  • published within the previous five years with any of the candidate’s supervisors.

Examiners and examination teams shall be recommended by the candidate’s supervisors and approved by the Graduate School Committee. The Committee shall satisfy itself that the examination team as a whole has an appropriate subject expertise and experience. Examination teams must have, between them, a minimum of three previous examinations at the level to be examined.

Examination teams should normally be appointed at least six months before submission, and no later than the final progression review. The University will determine the fees and expenses of external examiners.

The examination

Each viva examination will have an independent chair (an experienced researcher employed by the University from a separate academic discipline to the candidate). A candidate’s principal supervisor may attend the viva examination, with the permission of the candidate, but must not contribute to the examination in any way, unless specifically asked a question through the chair.

The purpose of the viva examination is to ensure that the candidate can demonstrate that the work completed in the thesis/ portfolio is their own; that the research makes an original contribution to knowledge and that they can defend their arguments and methodologies.

The viva examination also assesses whether the thesis is of sufficiently high standard to merit the award of the degree for which it is submitted and allows the examiners to seek clarifications and developments of ideas in the submitted thesis.

The successful completion of the viva examination is fundamental to the successful completion of the research degree. The outcome of the viva examination determines the award of a research degree. In some Professional Doctorate programmes, the portfolio may already have been approved and the viva instead focusses on the candidate’s ability to defend their work.

There are several possible outcomes to the viva examination, as detailed in table 5:

Table 5: Possible outcomes of a viva examination

  Viva ExaminationOutcomeApproved of CorrectionsDeadline for resubmission

I

Direct award

N/A

N/A

II

Minor corrections

To be approved by examiner(s), as nominated by the viva

examination team

3 months (from the date of notification of viva outcome

by the GSC)

III

Major corrections: no second viva examination

required

To be approved by examiner(s), as nominated by the viva

examination team

6 months (from the date of notification of viva outcome

by the GSC)

IV

Major corrections: second viva examination required

Second examination to be held following resubmission of the

thesis.

6 months (from the date of notification of viva outcome

by the GSC)

V

(PhD examination only) Write up for submission and examination of an

MPhil

MPhil examination to be held following submission of MPhil thesis

6 months (from the date of notification of viva outcome by the GSC)

VI

No award

N/A

N/A

In some instances, a Professional Doctorate candidate may be:

  • entitled to an exit award, depending on the course specification and the number of credits successfully achieved;

  • graded as I (Award) or VI (No award) in accordance with professional/regulatory requirements (detailed in the programme specification and handbook.

  • Permitted a second viva following minor or major corrections.

  • In exceptional circumstances, and on the recommendation of the examiners, the Graduate School Committee may agree to a longer period for the candidate to complete and submit their corrections, up to a maximum of one year in total.

Submitting final approved thesis

Upon submission of the revised thesis, the examiner(s) nominated by the viva examination team will receive and review the changes made. If satisfied that all required corrections have been made, the examiner(s) will recommend to the Graduate School Committee that a research degree can be awarded. The Graduate School Committee ratify the award of the research degree on behalf of the University’s Academic Board.

Following notification of the award of their degree, the candidate must submit one electronic copy of the final version of the thesis/ portfolio to the Graduate School. MPhil and PhD candidates should also submit their completed British Library Electronic Thesis Online System (Ethos) form [link to be added when available] and a copyright declaration form [link to be added when available]. The final thesis will also be lodged in the University’s Open Access online repository.

Candidates may, in exceptional circumstances, apply (before or at the time of the submission of the thesis for examination) to the Graduate School Committee for the thesis to remain confidential (for instance if the thesis contains commercially sensitive material). If approved, a thesis will not normally remain under embargo for a period longer than one year after the degree is awarded.

Appeals

An academic appeal is defined here as an appeal against the outcome of a progression panel or a viva examination panel. Any other concerns (e.g. regarding supervision or resources) should be progressed as a student complaint.  

For an appeal against the decision of a progression stage review (early, mid or final progression review) or against the decision of the viva examination team, the grounds for appeal will be:

a) Your results have been affected by the University not following its own assessment procedure. If you are a research student, this may include the arrangements for your supervision.  Academics use their knowledge and expertise to mark your work. This is academic judgement. You cannot appeal because in your opinion this judgment is wrong.

b) You had exceptional circumstances which you could not reasonably apply for, or evidence, using the Exceptional Circumstances Procedure. 

For information on both complaints and appeals please refer to the Complaints and Appeals Procedure.