Over the last 12 months, students from the University of Wolverhampton's Law School have provided representation to scores of disabled and vulnerable people when they are challenging the Department of Work and Pensions over the payment of Employment and Support Allowance.
Figures show that of the 2,700 appeals concerning Employment and Support Allowance decided every year only 15% of people had a representative present to help them put forward their case. In these instances, two thirds of appeals were found in the claimant's favour - a much greater success rate than in cases where there was no such representation.
To increase the number of people able to access representation, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Welfare Rights Service joined forces with the University of Wolverhampton to equip law students with the knowledge they need to represent people at appeal hearings.
And so far the students have helped disadvantaged and vulnerable people in Wolverhampton secure a total of £638,620 which they were entitled to.
The students undertake comprehensive training provided by the Welfare Rights Service, learning about supporting appeals and the qualifying rules for Employment and Support Allowance and receiving casework mentoring from a Welfare Rights officer.
The latest group of students have just completed their training and will support their first appeals in the coming weeks, while a further cohort will be recruited this autumn.
And the scheme is being extended to offer representation to people appealing against Personal Independence Payment and Benefits Sanctions decisions, as well as Employment and Support Allowance.
Sarah Platts, one of the legal students who took part in the scheme, said: "I really want to help people who are not able to help themselves. I want to be a lawyer and this is an excellent way to show my commitment to the law to potential employers."
One of the people assisted with their appeal added: "I felt a lot more confident having someone sitting next to me who was on my side. It was a big help having someone with me who knew the rules."
Councillor Elias Mattu, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Cabinet Member for Adult Services, said: "The benefits system is very complicated and this partnership is a win-win situation for all concerned.
"Vulnerable and disadvantaged claimants get the support they need when appealing against benefit decisions, law students get real life experience of representing in legal cases, while the judiciary, which has shown great enthusiasm for this project, benefits from appellants being effectively supported to present their case."
June Dennis, Undergraduate Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Wolverhampton, said: "The faculty is incredibly proud to have been a part of this project. Students have been able to work with real life cases and gain an in depth understanding of how tribunals and court processes work."
Anyone living in Wolverhampton who would like help with Employment and Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payment or Sanctions appeals should call 01902 555351 between 9am and 4pm, weekdays.
- released: Friday 7 August, 2015