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Projects 2020-21

2020-21 Strategic Public Law Clinic Projects

  • Mental Health Services in Coventry: Developing strategies to support the Central England Law Centre in addressing complaints regarding NHS services to influence local change.  

  • Public Awareness of Judicial Review: Raising public awareness of judicial review in the Law Centre’s local communities.   

  • Assessing Issues in Universal Credit: An investigation into systemic problems surrounding the issuing of the ‘UC50’ form and recommendations to help influence change in the UC system.  

  • Analysing the Impact of Care Easements: Identifying key rights within the Care Act and anticipating how they could be impacted and recorded following the Coronavirus Act 2020.  

  • Community Equivalent Healthcare in Immigration Removal Centres: A continuation from last year's project, exploring reasons for concern about the quality of healthcare in IRCs.  

Mental Health Services in Coventry

Central England Law Centre is contracted to provide an independent advocacy service in Coventry to assist those who wish to make a complaint about NHS services. The advocate found that clients were raising issues about local mental health services which coalesced around some recurring themes, but the complaints investigation and resolution seemed to be solely focused on the individual case and that patient’s experience of dissatisfaction. The function of complaints mechanisms in the public sector is to use patient’s experience to improve service quality.  

Our project team began by analysing issues raised in complaint cases about NHS mental health services to identify any underlying common themes. Those that emerged included complaints about failures to provide key information about diagnosis and treatment, lack of treatment choice and weaknesses in continuity of support.  

The team then developed a strategy to try and improve the use of complaints by the health organisations concerned as a quality driver, taking into account the pressure on NHS resources which tends to operate as a counter-incentive. This process involved researching quality standards developed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and identifying those standards which had something to say about the reoccurring concerns raised by complainants in the cases that had been considered.  

The group produced an easy-to-use reference tool to incorporate relevant quality benchmarks into individual complaints to address recurring issues in the quality of service, and a monitoring tool which can be used by the advocate to observe patterns over time. Both tools are currently being trialled by the advocate and will be reviewed based on their experience. The data generated aims to provide other opportunities for influencing change locally.  

Public Awareness of Judicial Review

On the 31st of July 2020, the Government launched an official review of judicial reviewLink opens in a new window. It established a panel of constitutional law experts “to consider whether the right balance is being struck between the rights of citizens and to challenge executive decisions and the need for effective and efficient government.” The indications from the government were that, in its view, the balance needed shifting in favour of the latter.  

Judicial review is the court process in which a judge decides whether a public authority has acted lawfully. This was the process that was used in 2019 to decide whether the prime minister’s decision to advise the Queen to prorogue parliament was unlawful. It is also the process that might be used to challenge the lawfulness of a council’s decision that a disabled person is ineligible for social care services or to close a library.  

Despite its vital role in protecting us against the abuse of power, very few have heard of ‘judicial review’. Therefore, the aim of this SPLC project was to start to tackle the task of raising public awareness in the Law Centre’s local communities, at a time when the effectiveness of judicial review was under threat.  

At the core of the project’s strategy were three elements: understanding and addressing common misconceptions judicial review; making the issue relevant to people’s everyday lives; and disseminating the information through organisations which tend to have contact with local people in connection to a range of issues where judicial review could be a useful tool.  

Our project team created an accessible fact sheet about judicial review and a series of real-life case studies that consider the impact it can have in helping to resolve everyday unfairness. We also organised an event ‘Challenging public authorities – using law to tackle everyday unfairness’ which was attended by representatives of 34 local organisations.  

More information on the judicial review of public awareness campaign as well as the fact sheet can be found here.Link opens in a new window

Assessing Systemic Issues in Universal Credit

Universal credit (UC) was introduced in 2012 as a new welfare benefits system which was to be administered largely online. This project looked in-depth at one aspect of the administrative process in which the Welfare Benefits Team at the Law Centre has observed irregularities with significant implications for claims. The Law Centre had noticed a trend in the UC50 not being issued to claimants in cases where it would have been expected. If claims did not receive the form, it was likely that they hadn’t been referred into the process for accessing all the benefits to which they were entitled.  

The project group undertook internet research to find publicly available information, submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the DWP and surveyed members of the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers (NAWRA). Our research found that there is a significant wide-spread national problem of non-receipt of UC50s, which appears to have been exacerbated by the pandemic. We identified a number of potential weaknesses in the administrative system which could be contributing to the problem, including a lack of automation at key points; a lack of systemisation of key steps; and issues with the training materials disclosed by the DWP. In addition, there is a lack of appropriate safeguards in place when something goes wrong - this has all the hallmarks of systemic unfairness, which is unlawful in public law terms.  

The project concluded with a report on our findings and recommendations on how to address this and help influence change in the UC system, making it fairer for claimants. The report is now being used by a national organisation to advocate for changes through the Work and Pensions Committee and the DWP.  

A detailed summary version of the report for the Universal Credit project can be accessed here:

Summary reportLink opens in a new window  

Analysing the Impact of Care Easements

The Coronavirus Act 2020 removed a swathe of key rights of those in need of adult social care. The absolute obligations of local social service authorities to meet eligible needs were transformed, through guidance, into acts to be performed unless and until the authority decided it would adopt stage 3 or 4 ‘easements.’ The idea was that these levels of easement would limit statutory obligations so that local councils were better equipped to deal with the pandemic pressures.  

However, these easements were only in effect for a short period of time. Anecdotally, it appeared that many local authorities informally operated what were, in effect, higher level easements with resulting unmet needs. In addition, the lower level easements, in any event, had the potential to severely impact adults with disabilities and their families. There was concern that those impacts would be felt beyond the end of the pandemic and the formal reinstatement of rights.  

Therefore, the aim of this project was to develop a framework to assist the Law Centre’s Health and Social Care team to identify patterns of impact on rights which may need tackling strategically. Our project team worked to identify key rights within the Care Act and anticipate how they could be impacted, and then created an excel tool to assist the case workers in the Law Centre’s Health and Social Care Team to identify and record the impacts on rights.  

This tool will be used to uncover systemic and continuing issues which will help target resources as part of the Team’s current Rights in Peril Project.  

Community Equivalent Healthcare in Immigration Removal Centres

The SPLC have continued to work on this project which began last year. We worked closely with Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group to explore the reasons for persistent concerns about the quality of healthcare in immigration removal centres, in particular focusing on the role of community equivalence in the inspection regime.  

We were supported by a group of student volunteers at the start of the year to conduct further research, and we have developed this into an extensive report detailing our findings and analysis, “The Right to Community Equivalent Healthcare in Immigration Removal Centres: a Public Law Analysis of Systemic Issues in the inspection Regime.” The report will be available in the coming months.