Legal aid is under threat. The government is planning to change the rules so legal aid cannot be used to help people challenge welfare benefit decisions when mistakes are made. Inaccurate benefit decisions can see people pushed into poverty. Expert advice allows them to challenge these decisions and make sure they are right.
Lord McNally is in charge of the government bill in the House of Lords. Email him urging the government to amend it to ensure thousands of people continue to benefit from expert legal advice.
Disabled people will be among those who will suffer most from the government’s plans to cut legal aid. Rose Hartley would have been one of those people -after her disability benefit was wrongly cut by the government, she was only able to appeal against the decision thanks to the free legal aid advice she received. Here is Rose’s story:
“They took my money off me so it must be right”
Rose Hartley’s mobility, speech and memory were seriously impaired by a stroke which has also resulted in her needing a pacemaker and daily injections to thin her blood. Fortunately, despite accepting the decision that cut her benefit to just £18 a week, Rose showed her letter to one of the carers at the stroke clinic she attends. He urged her to seek legal aid advice and she was referred to the Islington Law Centre which is where Lorna Reid began supporting her.
Lorna explains that Rose had made the common mistake of not providing enough information in her medical assessment and so she had been judged capable of self-care. “For example, when asked whether she could use the bath Rose had said yes. What she hadn’t said was she needed her friend Wendy to run the bath, test the water, check for obstacles and then wait patiently for 40 minutes while she got herself into the bath.”
“Disability tests take a very simple view of things and are often presented as you can or can’t do things. Here we have the time and the experience to drill down into the answers people give to find out more. If someone answers ‘yes’ to ‘can you dress yourself?’ we will ask them how long it takes them.”
It became clear to Lorna during the time she spent with Rose that it was Rose’s confidence in her own ability to rehabilitate and her determination to remain independent that were her “undoing”. Rose agrees: “I can’t get dressed, I can’t use the cooker, I can’t clean or go shopping. I thought I could do all these things, but it doesn’t work like that. I want to do them, but I can’t. Maybe one day I will be able to.”
But by not providing the Department of Work and Pensions with the true facts of her situation Rose was missing out money that would have helped her live a more comfortable life. By spending time with Rose and Wendy and asking them the right questions Lorna was able to understand the true extent of Rose’s need and build a set of medical evidence that meant she was able to successfully appeal her benefit decision.
Rose says: “I didn’t think I was going to get my appeal, but I got it and it is only down to these people.”
It’s vital we protect access to free legal advice for people like Rose. Email Lord McNally now and tell the government to scrap their plans to cut legal aid.
Thanks to Scope for sharing Rose’s story.