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Students offer free ESA representation to tackle legal aid cuts

Date: 07/11/2017
News Category:

Law students will help hundreds of people appeal benefit cuts by offering free advice and legal representation across Coventry.

A new partnership between Coventry University and the Central England Law Centre will tackle a surge in demand for appeals by claimants who feel they have been unfairly denied Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

24 students from the Law School will now work exclusively on ESA appeals with the Midlands-based legal charity to represent up to 50 claimants each month and help ensure people receive benefits to which they are entitled.

Reports show that nationally, legal aid cuts have triggered a 99.5 per cent drop in the number of people able to appeal decisions over such benefits.

Alan East, senior law lecturer at Coventry University and regional representative on the Council of the Law Society, said it is a way for students to gain experience while helping people challenge benefits cuts amid a demand for appeals triggered by welfare reforms and the new ESA payment.

He said:

“This experience is invaluable for students looking to a legal career, but more than just that, it is a way for the university to continue helping people gain access to justice where they otherwise have no means to do so.

 

The sheer number of appeals coming through against ESA decisions shows how much of a problem this is becoming for people desperately in need.

 

What our students can offer is a bridge for that gap. They will take complete ownership of cases with supervision and support wherever it is needed.”

Funded by Coventry University it is the Law School’s second partnership with the Law Centre – a charity which offers free legal advice specifically aimed at those who would have previously qualified for government-funded legal aid. 

In Coventry, the Law Centre is successful in 81 percent of its ESA appeals, and is able to continue to offer the service to residents thanks to council funding.

Sue Bent, chief executive of the Centre said:

“We remain hugely grateful to Coventry City Council for their ongoing support for our benefits appeal service. However, recent increases in appeals and the cuts to legal aid have placed our service under an impossible pressure.

 

We are extremely pleased that our partnership with Coventry University has enabled a solution to be found. This will not fill the gap left by cuts to legal aid, but will go some way in helping the people of Coventry access the right to justice over ESA decisions.”

Students will be chosen following a strict application process and work in pairs preparing cases for a minimum of four hours each week, and committing to take on one or two new caseloads each month for anywhere up to 50 weeks.  

They will take full responsibility for cases and work with the help of a designated legal coordinator on all aspects including liaising with clients and the Department for Work and Pensions; and appearing before a judge at the Social Security Tribunal.

Supported by a designated student co-ordinator, students will complete classroom-based inductions until Christmas to learn about welfare reforms and ESA, before attending tribunal hearings and working directly with clients.

Image: Alan East in action, Coventry University's moot room.

 


For further press information, please contact Hannah Smith, press officer at Coventry University, on 024 77658352 or at hannah.smith@coventry.ac.uk.