Strategic Social Justice Clinic
The Strategic Public Law Clinic (SPLC) is a joint initiative between Central England Law Centre (CELC) and Warwick LinC. It specialises in using public law strategically to address systemic disadvantage and achieve effective change. Students work with the Public Law and Human Rights team at CELC on a variety of projects that CELC would be unable to pursue without our students’ support.
Working in small groups, student volunteers receive supervision, guidance and mentorship from Karen Ashton Solicitor CELC's Head of Public Law and Human Rights alongside Dr Tara Mulqueen, Director of Warwick LinC.
Our projects are carefully selected to put legal learning into practice, find creative ways of using the law and develop leadership, communication and organisational skills in the social justice sector. Student volunteers are closely involved in devising and delivering project strategies, and not simply completing set tasks.
2021-22 Strategic Public Law Clinic Projects
- The Local Housing Allowance and its Impact on Homeless Families: Assisting the Central England Law Centre in cases where decisions have been made to withdraw temporary accommodation, with an intention to influence systemic change.
- Rights in Peril – Reinstating Rights to Social Care Post Covid-19: Considering the extent to which the key social care rights in The Care Act 2014 have been fully reinstated two years on from the introduction of the Coronavirus Act 2020.
The Local Housing Allowance and its Impact on Homeless Families
Local housing authorities (like Coventry and Birmingham city Councils) owe a number of duties to homeless people. However, if a family is found to be what is termed ‘intentionally homeless’, a local authority’s duty is limited to providing them with temporary accommodation to give the family an opportunity to find their own permanent accommodation. Often, the family is dependent on private sector renting. But this can be made very difficult by the Local Housing Allowance (LHA). The LHA is a statutory limit on the amount of rent which will be paid by means-tested benefits (Universal Credit or Housing Benefit) if you rent from a private landlord. For families with children, the amount will depend on the size of accommodation that the scheme says is needed. This depends on the size of the family and the sex of the children (which determines whether they are able to share a room). If a family is unable to provide a home for the children, they are at risk of being taken into care. The extent of the Council’s duties (as both a housing and a social services authority) to continue to provide temporary accommodation arguably depends, in part, on how difficult it is to find alternative accommodation.
This current SPLC project aims to assist caseworkers in the Law Centre in individual cases where decisions have been made to withdraw temporary accommodation. In doing so, we hope to consider how the work undertaken might influence more systemic change to local policy and practice in the Council’s performance of their statutory duties.
Rights in Peril: Reinstating Rights to Social Care Post Covid-19
The Coronavirus Act 2020 removed a swathe of key rights of those in need of adult social care. The Care Act 2014 created an absolute obligation on local social services authorities to meet the statutory eligible needs of adults with disabilities. This right was transformed by the pandemic legislation into acts to be performed unless and until the authority decided it would ‘adopt easements.’ The idea was that easements would allow local authorities to limit their obligations so that they would be in a better position to deal with the pressures from the pandemic. Four of eight authorities across England who decided to adopt (what were called) ‘level 3’ easements (and therefore restrict the rights of disabled adults) were in the West Midlands. There were a number of legal challenges to the decisions and none of the authorities retained their level 3 easements for very long. However, anecdotally, it appears that a number of local authorities used lower-level easements and even, in effect, operated in the higher levels informally with resulting needs unmet.
The relevant provisions of the Coronavirus Act were withdrawn in July 2021, but have social care rights been fully reinstated two years on from the introduction of this unprecedented emergency legislation?
This current SPLC project will undertake investigations to identify patterns of impact on key rights and the extent to which those may not have yet been fully reversed and need tackling strategically. For example, through public legal education campaigns, advice and litigation casework, data collection and policy influencing. This cannot be ascertained by simply analysing issues that arise for clients who approach the Law Centre. Those who have been affected may not know that they have relevant legal rights and they may not seek out specialist legal advice. We want to get a better sense of the extent and nature of the impacts through a survey of those organisations who provide various types of care and support to meet assessed needs under the Care Act.
This work will form part of a broader project (‘Rights in Peril’) currently being undertaken by the Law Centre’s Health and Social Care Team and funded by the Barings Foundation.
Student feedback (2020-21 Projects):
- "The project has helped me to develop my communication, presentation, and critical thinking skills, as well as my teamwork and strategic planning skills."
- "The project was much-needed encouragement to pursue a legal career in social welfare and legal aid, by providing a glimpse into what this work entails and how it helps."
- "I learnt more about how Human Rights functions in practice in the UK. We had no idea how the Care Act worked let alone how the pandemic would affect it. This is the first project(I’ve been involved in) that has taught me the practicalities of law in context."
- "[The Law Centre] ran a lot of interesting projects of the type I would like to hopefully run or be involved in during my career, so seeing this in action and in more detail was brilliant."
I must say thanks to everyone here. This whole piece of work makes me feel very proud. It really is fantastic that the law centre is in a place where we can take on the initial piece of litigation and then complete a piece of work that brings that legal victory into the real world in order to amplify its effect. Brilliant.- Michael Bates, Head of Services CELC Birmingham. Accessing student finance project
The volunteers and interns we have worked with have been dedicated, passionate and really eager to make positive change. It has been a pleasure working with them and we are very grateful for all of their contributions….. You listen and value our inputIRC Visitors’ Group Advocacy Co-ordinator
Strategic Public Law Clinic Internships
Each year we aim to offer paid internship positions over the summer break for interns to gain a more intensive, in-depth experience working on SPLC projects and ensure the valuable work of the clinic is able to continue all year round. Internships this year will be supported by the generous donations of alumni, donors and supporters of the University via the Warwick Innovation Fund. Visit this page for information on current opportunities and volunteering vacancies.
My internship has provided an invaluable opportunity to improve my legal and professional skills massively. I can now synthesise and structure large volumes of material quickly and easily, something that would have shell-shocked me before. I’ve learnt to solve problems in practice, prioritise and mange tasks and to express myself more concisely in written communication.
I’ve loved being around intellectual and professional role models, watching how they think and process information and make decisions in real time with real cases. You just don’t get that in lectures and seminars. More importantly, I’ve loved the freedom of this way of working, that I’m responsible for and trusted to solve problems and then justify to the team why I’ve done something in a certain way.
I am learning so much about opportunities for Public Law intervention, opportunities to intervene on behalf of the client and the need to watch how things are shaped by the news and what’s going on. Decisions impact on ordinary people and it’s important to hold authorities to account.
Summer 2020 intern