Wolverhampton City Council's Welfare Rights Service is working with Wolverhampton Citizens Advice Bureau and the University of Wolverhampton to equip law students to provide free representation for disabled and vulnerable people in Wolverhampton who are challenging decisions over the payment of Employment and Support Allowance.
Figures show that more than 4,000 appeals were made in Wolverhampton concerning Employment and Support Allowance last year.
But of the 2,700 appeals which were decided, only 15% of people had a representative present to help them put their case. In these cases, two thirds of appeals were found in the claimant's favour - a much greater success rate than for cases where there was no representation.
The 21 law students are giving up their time to receive training from the Welfare Rights Service before representing people who request support at their appeal hearings. In return, the students get real life experience of representing in legal cases where there is dispute between two parties.
Councillor Steve Evans, Wolverhampton City Council's Cabinet Member for Adult Services, said: "The benefits system is very complicated and our Welfare Rights Team work hard to ensure people are able to receive the benefits they are entitled to.
"Joining forces with the law students from the University of Wolverhampton Law School is an important extension of their work, meaning that people going through the appeals process are given the help and support they need to put their case and increase the likelihood of getting the outcome they want.
"And it is a win-win situation, because the students will be learning vital skills which should help them in their future career."
Dr Anthea Gregory, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Wolverhampton, said: "The University is proud to be a part of this commendable initiative where law students are provided with opportunities to apply their legal skills and knowledge to help vulnerable people in the community."
Jeremy Vanes, Chief Operating Officer at the Citizens Advice Bureau, said: "We have noticed an upswing in the numbers of local people requesting assistance with benefits related advice, and yet the resources to help them that were previously financed by Legal Aid have recently been cut by the Government.
"The Citizens Advice Bureau welcomes any initiative that seeks to help local people in dispute about their benefit entitlements. It is fundamental to the quality of justice that vulnerable people have access to legal representation to enable their cases to be properly heard and decided."
Councillor Evans added: "Times are hard for everyone at the moment, and despite the council facing an unprecedented financial challenge this is another good example of how we are finding innovative, low cost ways to offer the help and support our residents need."
Anyone living in Wolverhampton who would like help with Employment and Support Allowance appeals should call 01902 572006 between 9am and 4pm, weekdays.
- released: Tuesday 1 April, 2014