Access to Justice and Welfare Rights

This module, which is run by Dr James Organ and Dr Jennifer Sigafoos, gives students an understanding of Access to Justice and social welfare law, and its application in practice in the 3rd sector. Students get the opportunity to apply this law during a six week placement at a local 3rd sector agency; mainly Citizens Advice offices. The module fits squarely within our ethos as a School of Law and Social Justice, as well as providing a great learning and work experience opportunity for the students. The first four weeks of semester students will be in university having lectures/seminars on the meaning of Access to Justice, the importance of legal aid, and the current policy issues in this area; as well as preparing for placements. They will have training on interview skills, on organisational principles, and on social welfare law. The focus will be on law relating to welfare benefits, in particular Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA). These are the two main disability benefits in the UK – 4000 issues a quarter in Liverpool Citizens Advice alone – and complex areas of law.

During the placement the group of students will run a specialised clinic to assist client applications for the two benefits. Placements will be timetabled for half a day a week. Students will have the opportunity to interview clients every week and apply the law to their situations when completing the ESA and PIP forms. The placements are supported by the organisation’s training officer, experienced Advice Session supervisors will supervise the students’ work with clients, and James and Jennifer will meet with students during the placement period. Students will therefore get great experience of managing client interviews and legal research in a supportive environment, which in turn will significantly increase their employability. Students will also gain an understanding of the wider context of access to justice, and of the wider issues facing society. Part of the assessment is a presentation/poster on an access to justice issue that they have become aware of and/or been involved in during their placement. Students also complete a reflective log and a piece of coursework on access to justice.