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Z2K case study

Reversing disadvantaged Londoners’ adverse benefits decisions

Since 2020, lawyers from Freshfields’ London office have worked with the anti-poverty charity Z2K to help individuals challenge official refusals of disability benefits entitlements, with a high rate of success.

Reforms to the UK’s benefits system have resulted in an increased number of disabled people having their welfare payments reduced or refused. Unless those decisions are reversed, many face the risk of worsening poverty and – in some cases – homelessness.

Z2K (the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust) has been providing free legal representation to such individuals for over 20 years using a mixture of experienced in-house caseworkers and pro bono volunteer lawyers, including from Freshfields.

Appellants rarely represented

The UK benefits system is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Welfare claimants who feel that they have had their benefits stopped or reduced wrongly have a right of appeal to a tribunal.

However, with only 10 per cent of appellants in London represented, there is a high level of demand for specialist legal representation to help individuals who might otherwise struggle to navigate the formal appeals process, which includes lodging several pages of written submissions and answering questions from a panel of judges at a hearing.

Freshfields on board

Freshfields lawyers started representing Z2K clients in early 2020. After receiving training, Freshfields volunteers prepare appeals by considering the necessary paperwork, drafting and filing written submissions, and representing clients at oral hearings with the aim of helping them assert their legal rights.

A layer of complexity was added with the onset of the pandemic, which meant navigating changing guidance on tribunal hearings and moving to remote (videoconferencing and telephone) hearings in most cases.

A strong success rate

Over 70 of our partners, counsel and associates are now involved in the project, which is overseen by IP partner Christopher Stothers. It is our first London-wide advocacy opportunity in which lawyers from all practice groups can get involved.

As of September 2021, we had recorded over 1,000 hours to the project and obtained 16 successful outcomes. Two further cases that were initially unsuccessful have been appealed, with one resulting in an initial refusal being set aside and a new hearing so far. A further eight cases are ongoing.

Our involvement, alongside other City law firms, enables Z2K to represent 500 tribunal appellants each year, with a success rate in 2019 of 92 per cent (compared to a general success rate of 73 per cent). 

A valuable – and valued – relationship

Lucy Isaac, Tribunals Co-ordinator at Z2K, said: 'Nearly half of all people in poverty in the UK are either disabled themselves or live with someone who is disabled. Unfortunately, too many are wrongly denied the health and disability benefits they are entitled to, leaving them unable to live stable and dignified lives.

'We're delighted to work in partnership with Freshfields and grateful for the positive outcomes they achieve for our clients, supporting over 30 appeals since their involvement began,' Lucy continued. 'Their interventions have resulted in securing well over £100,000 in backdated and future payments for our clients. With the support of pro bono partnerships, we can help many more disabled people access justice and secure vital income to help them meet their needs. A huge thank you to Freshfields for their continued support.'

Global transactions (GT) associate Sam Naylor said 'There is enormous value in getting involved with Z2K for two reasons: first, because it substantially increases Z2K's clients' chances of success, and second, because it builds our own collective understanding of the processes and norms that govern the welfare system – a vital part of our society.'

Fellow GT associate Yvonne Barry said: 'Volunteering with Z2K was a highly rewarding experience. We successfully represented our client in his benefits appeal, which made a significant difference to his life and was a great way to use our expertise to help make a difference. Z2K provide all the necessary support and training so that you can represent clients to the best of your ability.'

Z2K client stories

Abdul (not his real name) was granted asylum in the UK after fleeing torture in his home country. As a result of the treatment he endured, he suffered from several serious health conditions. Having previously received disability living allowance (DLA), Abdul was told by the DWP that he was not entitled to any benefits under the personal independence payments scheme, which replaced DLA.

In his appeal, we were able to help Abdul successfully claim the standard daily living award to which he was entitled (alongside the enhanced rate of mobility award, which was uncontested).

Nadul (not his real name) had a range of health conditions, including lower leg amputation, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, resulting from his involvement in a civil war in his home country.

Following the amputation, Nadul wore a prosthetic limb, but was unable to move very far (even in a wheelchair) without suffering severe pain. Nadul could not climb stairs and was forced to sleep in his living room.

The DWP refused Nadul the ‘work-related’ element of universal credit (UC), which is generally paid to those unable to look or prepare for work, such as attend an interview.

At a remote hearing via telephone, the tribunal soon recognised that the acute, long-term nature of Nadul’s health conditions prevented him from working and agreed with us that he should receive the UC payment in full. 

Following the tribunal's decision, Nadul said: 'Thank you so much for all your help and support during this case… I have finally received my right to the credit… I am so grateful for everything.'

Dispute resolution associate Victoria Rowley, who represented Nadul, said: 'We successfully represented our client in his benefits appeal, which made a significant difference to his life and was a great way to use our expertise to help make a difference.'

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