This project aims to define a new model of advice and advocacy for our elderly clients with complex health and social needs. Some of our clients repeatedly call upon services such as ours for help on a wide range of matters. The traditional advice model probably does not work for them. Our Special Support Project is a response to this reality, and under this project we will provide front-loaded support to targeted individuals over a number of months, in order to help resolve problems which contribute to them reaching crisis point on a regular basis. The help includes, amongst other things, helping them to re-engage with support services such as daycentres, alcohol and drug programmes, and other specialist bodies. We will also work to maximise their incomes via benefit checks, and seek to assist with debt problems.
Four years ago, we established an advocacy project centred on volunteer law students and pro bono lawyers. As a result of the Government’s welfare reforms we were inundated with clients seeking help with appeals against the stoppage of Employment & Support Allowance and the stoppage of the Personal Independence Payments. Through the project we are supporting appointed ‘advocates’ to undertake disability appeal casework and to provide advocacy at Welfare Tribunal appeals. To date, we have provided some 100 advocates with training and support to take this project forward. During the first year of the project our success rate at the First-tier tribunal was running at 80%. During the past year this rate has increased to 90%. Also, it is worth noting, that we have been able to provide an advocate for all our clients’ appeals. We are also now encouraging referrals from agencies in our locality, and we have extended the project to include education/Special Educational Needs casework/advocacy.
This is a project funded by The Trust for London. The project’s overall aim is to promote and protect the rights of disabled people in the workplace. This is achieved primarily through providing advice and casework and also through collaborative working with local frontline agencies. The work of the project is focused on early intervention in order to prevent an employed disabled person from becoming unemployed and subject to potentially a life on welfare benefits.
Since the project was established in October 2010, we have advised over 600 people. We have achieved successful casework outcomes in 85% of our cases overall with successful outcomes including re-instatement after dismissal, reasonable adjustments and settlement packages. We have delivered this service on-site and via outreach. It is worth noting that four out of five of the project users have mental health problems.
In February 2016, our new Family Law Clinic went ‘live’. It is weekly clinic with a focus on domestic violence. According to the British Crime Survey, around 5000 women in Tower Hamlets are currently experiencing domestic violence and over 20,000 women are living with the legacy of past domestic violence. Domestic violence accounts for 30% of all violent crime in Tower Hamlets. The clinic is a collaboration between ourselves and six international law firms.
This went ‘live’ on Thursday 23rd March 2017. It is a morning clinic to reflect the working patterns of the three USA law firms who are providing volunteers lawyers to staff the clinic. It is a weekly clinic supervised by our housing solicitor and supported by two of our trainee solicitors. This clinic is much needed as it supplies us with increased capacity in order to help deal with the large number of housing queries which we now see. Housing used to be only the fifth most common query we received. Now, it is only second to Welfare Benefits, and it is quickly catching that up. It is clear to us, that we are in the midst of a full-blown housing crisis.
This went ‘live’ in April 2017. This appointments only clinic takes referrals from local community organisations that come into contact with families in need of SEN advice and support. Initially, this clinic will run monthly (first Saturday of each month). In Tower Hamlets, the proportion of school aged children with special educational needs is 17.6%. This is far higher than the national average. 82% of children in Tower Hamlets that are in Pupil Referral Units have Special Educational Needs, this is despite official guidance that states that such children should not be placed in PRUs.
In recent years, there has been the development by GPs and other clinical staff of what is commonly now known as Social Prescribing, whereby patients can be referred to non-clinical sources of support within the community. Whilst this work is of real benefit there is now a growing need to provide community-based medical practitioners with more potent tools to help combat systemic discrimination of the unwell within our society. This is why we now are advocating ‘Legal Prescribing’ and why we are seeking funding to develop this pilot project, which we hope can be replicated across the country.
Our project seeks to embed specialist lawyers within medical centres to allow medical staff to prescribe legal interventions, as part of a human rights based approach to protect and promote the interests of patients with complex health and social needs. Amongst other things, our project will engage with medical practitioners to educate them on what is possible through legal interventions, and also provide them with the means to carry this work through.
We have introduced a paperless case-management system and Skype enabled PCs with a view to developing the opportunities for pro bono lawyers to take part in our work. Many pro bono minded lawyers cannot get to Bethnal Green for our evening pro bono drop-in sessions. However, with the introduction of our remote access case-management system and Skype we are now able to assist such lawyers to take part in our work from the comfort of their own desks, whilst we sit with the client in our office in Bethnal Green. We are also using this package to develop our outreach projects. Last year we conducted 350 ‘Skype’ advice interviews.
We obtained funding from the Tudor Trust to open a ‘hybrid’ charity shop. The shop opened in Bow in April 2016. The Tudor Trust has kindly agreed to pay the rent on the premises for two years. The shop combines an information resource with a traditional charity shop selling vintage clothing. The shop allows our users to engage with us in a way which contributes to our sustainability, whilst at the same time helps them with employability skills, and also provides access to our information and advice services. We attract a large number of volunteer law students. We intend to enter into a compact with such students, so that in return for frontline legal experience in LAC they will sign up to volunteering in the charity shop. Volunteer law students will serve as an ideal resource to assist users with many low-level but important matters. We have many corporate partners, and we have already received many pledges of support, for example, Slaughter and May have agreed to have a clothing/shoes/bags collection point in their main reception area.
The Bow Foodbank operates out of St Marys Church in Bow. This foodbank is a multi-faith operation. Food is collected by a number of churches, mosques and temples throughout Bow. The foodbank is open every Monday morning. We provide direct legal support to its users. One of our solicitors attends the foodbank every Monday. Their role is to provide help on matters such as accessing welfare benefits and emergency housing. This partnership between ourselves and Bow Foodbank is now entering its second year.
Since 2012, we have developed work around legal expenses insurance (LEI) in order to help fund tribunal and court work. As well as being provided on a stand-alone basis, legal expenses insurance is commonly included in motor policies - and – increasingly in household policies. When it is sold as part of another policy rather than as a stand-alone product, it is often presented as a free (or low cost) addition. Quite often our clients do not know that they have such cover. Such cover is also commonly provided as part of managed bank accounts and other financial products, for example, if you have an American Express card then you will have LEI. At first contact, we have changed our protocols so that we establish whether the client can take advantage of such cover.
Our ambitions are wider than just funding individual cases with LEI from existing provision. Key community stakeholders such as local government and social housing providers, often arrange large block contract insurance on behalf of their leaseholders, tenants and members. We aim to work with such stakeholders to persuade them to use their purchasing power to insist that their insurance providers include free LEI cover as part of such contracts.
Through our engagement with corporate law firms it is clear to us that their knowledge of what is possible concerning pro bono, and the political and social context to such work is quite variable. In response to this we are able to offer consultancy support to corporate law firms to assist their engagement with pro bono. This support may also be appreciated by firms that have fairly established CSR/Pro Bono programmes, but who require support at any given time to help establish a project or to undertake a particular piece of work.