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Projects 2021-22

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.  
  • Rights in Food Justice Project

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 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 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. 

Rights in Food Justice

Birmingham Food Justice Network (FJN) is a partnership of over 200 members from various organisations coordinated by the Active Wellbeing Society (AWS) with the aim of ensuring that people in Birmingham have access to sufficient and nutritious food. It was set up during the pandemic and responded to food needs across the city.  

But the pandemic only exacerbated food poverty in the city. As the overall impact of Covid lessens, FJN wants to explore how to take a more rights-informed approach, helping those who have to continue to use the network to access not only emergency food, but also rights which may tackle the cause of their food crises.  

The aim of the Rights and Food Justice Project is to assist FJN by developing effective and accessible public legal education and information about relevant rights that FJN members can use in their work.  

Students participating on this project can expect to:  

  • Contribute to developing an effective, targeted public legal education strategy in conjunction with small liaison group from the FJN.
  • Explore the concept of food justice and the importance of a rights-informed approach to food justice work.
  • Explore the nature of relevant rights including the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, and domestic rights in fields such as welfare benefits and social care.
  • Learn about best practice and develop skills in public legal education by drafting and designing information resources that are useable by FJN staff and volunteers and which contributes to getting rights into the hands of those to whom they belong.