A unique project which sees law students help vulnerable people challenge decisions over their benefits is in the running for a national award.
For the last two years, dozens of students from the University of Wolverhampton’s Law School have provided representation to disabled and vulnerable people when they challenge the Department of Work and Pensions over benefits including Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments.
In that time, they have supported more than 300 appeals and helped secure over £1.5m which people in Wolverhampton may otherwise have missed out on.
Official figures show that only a small number of people going to appeal hearings have a representative to help them put forward their case. If they do have this representation, their chances of success are much greater.
To ensure people could have access to representation, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Welfare Rights Service joined forces with the University of Wolverhampton to launch the project which equips law students with the skills and knowledge they need to represent people at appeal hearings.
The project has now been nominated in the Most Effective Pro Bono Partnership category at the LawWorks Pro Bono Awards 2016.
Councillor Sandra Samuels OBE, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Cabinet Member for Adult Services, said: “This has been a hugely successful partnership between the council and the university, which is bringing about excellent results not only for vulnerable people in Wolverhampton, but for the students themselves.
"Some 75% of appeals supported by the law students are successful, much higher than would be the case without their representation, and I am delighted the impact that the programme is having has been recognised with a nomination for a national award.
"This partnership is a win-win situation for all concerned. Vulnerable and disadvantaged claimants get the support they need when appealing against benefit decisions, but law students also get practical experience of representing in legal cases. The judiciary, which has shown great enthusiasm for this project, also benefits from appellants being effectively supported to present their case.”
Law student Jessica Wisbey said: “The in-depth training received on the project has empowered me to confidently represent clients in tribunals. It has been an invaluable, enjoyable and rewarding experience that I would recommend any law student.”
One successful appellant said: “I felt a lot more confident having someone sitting next to me who was on my side. It was a big help having someone in the room with me who knew the rules.”
Sukhninder Panesar, Head of Wolverhampton Law School, said: “The university is incredibly proud to have been a part of this project. Students have been able to work with real life cases and gain an in-depth understanding of how tribunals and court processes work.”
Anyone living in Wolverhampton who requires help with appeals against Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments decisions is invited to call 01902 555351 between 9am and 4pm, Monday to Friday.
The LawWorks Pro Bono Awards 2016 recognise and celebrate achievement in legal pro bono undertaken by organisations and individuals and the dedication and commitment of the legal sector to positively impact individuals and communities. The winners will be announced at a ceremony on Monday 5 December. For more information about LawWorks, please visit www.lawworks.org.uk.
The scheme previously won the Community Champion of the Year category at Wolverhampton Law Society's Annual Awards in 2015.