Student volunteers at the Avon and Bristol Law Centre reached £1 million this week in welfare benefits won for people wrongly declared fit for work by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The students have become a familiar sight at Bristol’s Social Security and Child Support Tribunal, where they represent clients at their benefit appeals in front of a judge and doctor.
With a success rate higher than the national average, the students have succeeded in getting 95% of decisions overturned in the claimant’s favour.
Mrs Brown (not her real name) from Hartcliffe, said: “Having the legal help was invaluable. I wouldn’t have won my case otherwise. It made me feel real again, like someone who has a place in society.”
Student volunteer Kinga Burzynska added: “The project has improved my legal knowledge, hands-on legal experience and given me invaluable time with clients. It reminds me of what difficulties people have to go through to get their rights. Making a difference to them is highly rewarding.”
Law Centre Welfare Benefits Adviser Andy King, who supervises the students, commented: “The students’ impressive success rate at the Tribunals is down to the many hours they have spent preparing the cases and representing at the Tribunals.
“Theyprovide much needed support to vulnerable people who, most of the time, don’t know where to start in challenging the decision that they are fit for work.
“Due to the cuts in legal aid they would not be able to get advice if it weren’t for the students”.
All the students who have volunteered on this project have gained First class degrees.
The Law Centre ‘s ‘Legal Advocacy Support Project’ is staffed by students from the University of the West of England and the University of Law, whoprepare cases and represent claimants at their appeal hearings. The project has helped over 200 people over the last two years with an average of £5,000 won for each client.
People who find their benefits stopped as a result of being found fit for work are mainly those with mental health problems or severe physical illnesses.
Working on the project not only helps people that cannot afford legal advice but gives the law students the opportunity to develop legal skills in a practical way. Drafting witness statements, requesting medical evidence, writing legal submissions and representing clients at court hearings are all invaluable skills for their future careers.
The Avon & Bristol Law Centre is a very worthwhile cause, and former President’s Charity of the Year. If you wish to help with fundraising, please contact the Law Centre here.
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