On Wednesday 21st June Warwick Law School students presented the results of a legal research project into social housing allocation inequality conducted as part of Warwick Law in the Community’s Strategic Social Justice Clinic. The presentation was given to front-line staff and solicitors as well as members of Law School staff and outlined the complex issues surrounding change of circumstance applications to Coventry City Council’s social housing team. The outcomes of the student’s work have resulted in resources that will be used by a local law centre in helping some of the most vulnerable people in Coventry secure adequate and timely assistance in their housing need.
The Strategic Social Justice Clinic (SSJC) is led by Dr Maggie O’Brien, Warwick Law School, and Emma Austin, solicitor and Rights in the Community Strategic Lead at the Central England Law Centre (CELC). The SSJC is part of Warwick Law in the Community (LinC) partnership with the CELC which aims to use public law and other rights-based strategies to address systemic disadvantage and achieve positive change for the local community.
This term Maggie and Emma led a group of Warwick students on research that investigated how people that underwent a change in circumstance face significant delays in securing new social housing accommodation. The research, which included guest visits by external speakers alongside more conventional academic research, was then used to create resources for the Housing Team at Central England Law Centre.
The genesis of the project came from challenges faced by the law centre’s housing team. Emma said, “Delays in processing 'change of circumstance' applications - and the profound impact of these delays for disabled and mentally unwell clients - were raised by CELC’s Housing Team members in one of our Rights in Community cross-team operations meetings on homelessness and inadequate housing.”
Over ten weeks Warwick Law students volunteered their time and worked together to investigate the problems facing social housing tenants that require new accommodation. This included talking to Holly Andrews, a client support worker for the CELC’s housing team, about the challenges facing social housing tenants. They also attended a guest lecture by Neil Morland who is an expert in public policy making and housing legislation. Each week students carried out research tasks, alone and in groups, into the legal issues surrounding social housing and barriers facing tenants.
Emma said “In response to the issues investigated by students, and following intensive research, SSJC student volunteers created a briefing note for CELC staff highlighting and analysing legal and political issues arising under the Council's allocations scheme. They also drafted a precedent judicial review pre-action protocol letter for use by Housing Team members in individual client cases.”
On Wednesday June 21st staff from the CELC, as well as Warwick Law School staff, attended a presentation by the SSJC which outlined their work and illustrated the results of their work which included the briefing note and the pre-action protocol letter. Meanwhile Katie Bostock, a third year Law student that volunteered on this term's SSJC project, reflected on the presentation “Although it was initially nerve-wracking to present our work to experts, it provided us with a valuable opportunity to engage in a critical discussion about general issues in housing allocations we had not previously considered. We received feedback after the presentation, including that our work was well-drafted and will be directly useful to the Law Centre in relevant cases. Emma said that the student's work will be used by the CELC as well “To inform discussions with our Council partners in CELC’s policy and systems-influencing work.”