Law students 2 – 0 Iain Duncan Smith
Law student volunteers at Avon & Bristol Law Centre have beaten last year’s tremendous performance when they successfully overturned 95% of Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) “fit for work” cases — by going one better to score a 96% success rate.
The centre’s Legal Advocacy Support Project — made up of 17 volunteers including law students from the University of West England (UWE) and the University of Law — assists members of the public on a pro-bono basis in challenging the DWP’s ruling that they are fit enough to undertake paid employment.
Supported by trained advisors, volunteers at the project received widespread media coverage for last year’s performance in what was dubbed a major blow for DWP’s head honcho Ian Duncan Smith MP. The story hit all the major tabloids and Legal Cheek’s coverage went viral, receiving almost 1,500 shares on Facebook alone.
Revealing the 1% rise in their success rate since early September 2015, the small group of aspiring lawyers and volunteers are punching well above their weight. The pro bono scheme’s success rate is considerably higher than the national average for overturning such decisions, which currently sits at just 59%.
Defending vulnerable members of society — who often suffer from mental health issues — the scheme has helped hundreds of people. With each client obtaining an average rebate of £5,000, the Bristol-based project smashed the £1 million total for welfare benefits won when it first hit headlines last year.
It’s a far cry from just photocopying and making coffee for those volunteering at the Legal Advocacy Support Project. Taking witness statements, drafting legal submissions, requesting medical submissions and even having the opportunity to represent clients in front of an appeal judge and doctor, the learning experience is very hands on.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, welfare benefits caseworker at Avon & Bristol Law Centre, Andy King, said:
As a result of the publicity the project received last year, we have managed to secure additional funding from a grant-making trust which is committed to improving access to effective legal advice for people needing social welfare support.
With the project securing in excess of £100,000 in arrears payments in just the last two months, Anna Nash — who is in her third year of an LLB at UWE and a volunteer — said:
It feels amazing, to have been able to help someone and change their life. It gives you a purpose of the work you’re doing. You see the impact it has on their life and it’s just such a great feeling.