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National Pro Bono Week 4-8 November

This #ProBonoWeek Z2K want to recognise the extraordinary contributions from Allen & Overy, Cooley, Kingsley Napley, Hogan Lovells, Mayer Brown, Morrison & Foerster, Freshfields, Osborne Clarke and Charles Russell Speechlys in supporting clients at tribunal to appeal negative decisions. THANK YOU!

By Zacchaeus 2000 Trust · November 1, 2019

Blog series for #ProBonoWeek

Lawyers from Cooley, Morrison & Foerster, Mayer Brown, Kingsley Napley, Allen & Overy and Hogan Lovells share their experiences of Z2K's Tribunal Project.

Read here

 

About Pro Bono Week

Pro bono week, now in its 18th year, provides an opportunity to encourage and recognise the voluntary contribution of lawyers in giving free legal help to those in need. Z2K are celebrating the commitment from corporate law firms in London by supporting people with their appeal at tribunal when they have been wrongly denied their disability benefits.

The issue we’re addressing

Since the reform of the benefits system, thousands of people with long-term health conditions and disabilities have had their benefits stopped by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as they have been found ‘fit for work’ during the assessment process. An unprecedented number of individuals have been pushed into poverty as a result.

The system is now so complex that many without support or advocacy find it difficult to navigate and without access to legal advice and representation, would not be able to challenge the negative decision. This has naturally led to an increasing need for services like Z2K, offering individual’s access to justice and their rights.

The solution

Z2K dedicate a huge part of our limited resource to provide free access to justice and representation at disability benefits tribunal. This is a fully co-ordinated scheme to connect pro bono lawyers to low income individuals who are in need of tribunal representation when they are denied their sickness or disability benefits. By helping people to appeal against negative decisions, we are working to maximise their income and reduce the risk of poverty. Last year, the financial benefit to all our clients was £3 million.

The people who will benefit are those with disabilities and/or chronic ill health; they are likely to be vulnerable or isolated and have a history of disadvantage. We work primarily with people whose needs are most complex and their voices least heard; providing the clients with access to justice and their rights.

With the help from Corporate Law Firms, we take around 400 cases to tribunal a year. Last year, 88% of the cases we represented at appeal stage were successful; official MOJ statistics show 73% of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) refusals are overturned at tribunal. For 2019 so far, our success rate has been 93%. This means people are put through an extensive and a remarkably unnecessary process all so – in the end – they can get the benefits they were clearly entitled to.

“After the help I got at tribunal, thanks to the Z2K staff, I got my PIP and now I can manage my bills. I need no longer to sell my belongings to survive.” – Client feedback

Thank you to our Pro Bono partners

A huge thank you to the following law firms that are involved with the project:

  • Allen & Overy
  • Hogan Lovells
  • Kingsley Napley
  • Mayer Brown
  • Morrison & Foerster
  • Freshfields
  • Osborne Clarke
  • Charles Russell Speechlys
  • Cooley

Staff from these law firms are taking cases for us on a pro bono basis. Developing close relationships with corporates has had multiple impact – increasing our capacity to help clients, raising our profile, bringing in new income, building our evidence base for policy influencing, raising awareness about problems with the benefit system to a wider audience.

As a result of involvement from firms, we have been able to help more people like Michael*:

We attended an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) tribunal representing our client, Michael*. On arrival, he was sat clutching his bag, looking extremely nervous and shaking notably. With a history of abuse, social isolation, the loss of support network, and well-documented mental health issues, Michael should not have had his ESA claim refused to begin with. The long drawn out process of being refused ESA through to entering the tribunal can take many months, leading to many people to give up on the process and try to go to work when they are not able to.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) often send one of their officers to attend the tribunal appeals by way of representing their department and defending their initial decision. This officer was questioned by the judge more than our client was.

The tribunal lasted less than 10 minutes. Michael was so clearly unwell; he was scared and dissociative when he was asked questions. He stuttered whenever he tried to speak. After the appeal was allowed, he looked at us and said ‘I didn’t hear anything they said.’

It was hard not to feel emotional when the judge herself looked disheartened to see Michael have to go through this. Sadder still to think that he will have to go through the whole process all over again, as the length of time he has to wait for this tribunal hearing on his appeal, means he will be up for ‘reassessment’ again in less than a years’ time to see if he is still ‘not fit for work’.

We will be sharing some success stories from some of our pro bono stars over the course of the week – watch this space and make sure you’re following us on twitter.

If you work as a solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive, why not get involved in our tribunals project. Register your interest here or email Samantha on samanthaevans@z2k.org

If you would like to get involved with the project as a law firm, contact Samantha by emailing

samanthaevans@z2k.org

If you would like to refer your clients to the project for tribunal representation, contact Lucy by emailing

tribunals@z2k.org