2019-20 Strategic Public Law Clinic Projects
Free Nursery Education for 2 Year Olds: Ensuring effective implementation of the Law Centre’s successful judicial review challenge to the exclusion of 2-year olds of certain migrant families from free nursery entitlement.
Access to Legal Aid – Impact of Capital Means-Test on Disabled people: Examining the impact of the Legal Aid Means Test on disabled people’s access to specialist legal advice.
Student Finance and Humanitarian Protection: Researching and developing a complete toolkit for accessing home fees and student finance for students with humanitarian protection.
Healthcare in IRCs: Investigating the quality of healthcare services provided to detainees in immigration removal centres.
Free Nursery Education for 2 Year Olds
In 2019, the Central England Law Centre received the sealed court order settling a judicial review of the exclusion of children of families in receipt of ‘section 4’ migrant support from the right to free nursery education for 2 to 3 year olds. Section 4 embodies the very basic subsistence support provided to third country nationals in the UK who are prohibited from working or having access to public funds and who are not asylum seekers.
The aim of this SPLC project was to develop and implement a strategy to ensure effective implementation of the Law Centre’s successful judicial review challenge to the exclusion of 2-year olds of certain migrant families from free nursery entitlement. The settlement was such that the relevant regulations would not be amended immediately, creating a risk that local authorities would continue to refuse applications.
Students working for SPLC found over 67% of the 150 authorities had not extended their published eligibility criteria. This research was used in a judicial review pre-action protocol letter sent by solicitors whose client had been unlawfully refused. The Department has now promised to undertake compliance monitoring.
Access to Legal Aid – Impact of Capital Means-Test on Disabled people
Before the implementation of The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 [LASPO], a person who was in receipt of one of a list of means tested welfare benefits (known as ‘passporting benefits’) automatically passed the means test for eligibility for legal aid. There was no ‘capital’ test. If not in receipt of a passporting benefit, there was a capital test. Passporting benefits included benefits such as income-related employment support allowance (IRESA) and guarantee pension credit.
The LAPSO introduced a different capital means-test to those in receipt of means-tested benefits. Equity in the home is included when assessing disposable capital. This has specific impacts on disabled people benefitting from the government’s specialist shared-ownership scheme which was established in response to significant difficulties in accessing suitable housing. One of CELC’s clients who used that scheme, and who has needed specialist legal help on a number of occasions, was found to be at increasing risk of Legal Aid ineligibility, solely because of an increase in the value of his home.
The Ministry of Justice’s equality impact assessment didn’t identify these impacts when LASPO was introduced. Therefore, students working on this SPLC project undertook research activities to contribute to detailed representations on the equalities issues to be submitted to the Government’s current review of the means test.
Student Finance and Humanitarian Protection
Initially, students who had been granted humanitarian protection in the UK were discriminated against in two ways. Unless they were able to show that they had been a resident in the UK for 3 years before their course starts, they:
- Were charged overseas student fees which are much higher than home student fees; and
- Had not been entitled to student finance.
Following a legal challenge by one of the Central England Law Centre’s clients, the government agreed that the 3-year residence requirement is unlawful and discriminated against those who were granted humanitarian protection, and therefore should not be applied.
The Department of Education is notifying both the Student Learn Company and Universities about this change. However, we were concerned that students who have humanitarian protection would still face difficulties if the correct information were not well-publicised.
The aim of this SPLC project was to ensure that students who should benefit, do so without having to take legal action themselves. And should they run into difficulties, they would know where they might find specialist legal help. Students created a toolkit explaining the changes to the 3-year ordinary resident requirement and to also equip individuals who might be affected by this issue. The toolkit will also help students understand what their rights are when applying to university.
Healthcare in IRCs
There is a persistent discrepancy between reported concerns by detainees and the conclusions reached in formal inspection reports. SPLC has a team of students working with Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group (GDWG) on a year-long project investigating evidence of a breach of the ‘legitimate expectation’ of community equivalence and supporting GDWG’s participation in a recently launched public inquiry into Brook House Immigration Removal Centre.