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Haringey Law Centre disability benefits appeal project shortlisted for LawWorks Pro Bono award!

Haringey Law Centre is delighted to announce that our Disability Benefits Appeals Project, delivered pro bono by volunteers lawyers from Debevoise and Plimpton LLP (https://www.debevoise.com/) has been shortlisted for a 2017 LawWorks Annual Pro Bono award!

 The LawWorks Annual Pro Bono Awards recognise and celebrate achievement in legal pro bono undertaken by organisations and individuals and the dedication and commitment of the legal sector to positively impact individuals and communities.

 This year’s awards ceremony will be held on Tuesday 5th December 2017 at the Law Society in Chancery Lane, London.

 Haringey Law Centre and Debevoise and Plimpton’s Disability Benefits Appeals Project has been shortlisted in the ‘most effective pro bono partnership’ category.

Haringey Law Centre (HLC) is based in Tottenham, North London. It is the last Law Centre standing in the area after Enfield Law Centre closed in 2008 and Barnet Law Centre in 2014. In April 2016, HLC almost closed. HLC’s staff and volunteers, the majority of whom are local people, were so heartbroken at the idea of the community losing the Law Centre that they stayed on as unpaid volunteers. This included HLC’s welfare benefits caseworker Chris Papaloizou whom, despite receiving no salary, continued to advise disabled Haringey residents on their legal entitlement to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP). HLC’s difficult circumstances continued for most of 2016. However, in late November 2016, Emma Rehal-Wilde, pro bono manager at Debevoise and Plimpton LLP, visited HLC and asked how Debevoise could help.

On hearing about HLC’s plight in more detail, Emma immediately suggested that Debevoise assist HLC to keep a disability benefits service going. Emma took this idea back to Debevoise’ partners who agreed to support the project and in February 2017, 19 Debevoise lawyers at all levels of seniority, ranging from trainee to international counsel to partner, came forward to volunteer with the project. Those 19 lawyers represent almost a fifth of the lawyers based at Debevoise’ London office.

 The project works like this: Debevoise lawyers attend HLC’s office in Tottenham during working hours to conduct full and comprehensive interviews with Haringey residents – many of whom do not speak English as their first language and many of whom are in a great deal of pain and distress. The lawyers then prepare detailed written submissions in advance of the client’s tribunal hearing and then accompany them and represent them at their appeals. In the short while that the project has been operating (as a pilot due to no funding) its impact has been substantial. 

To date, Debevoise lawyers have undertaken 420 hours of pro bono work for HLC’s disabled clients amounting to the equivalent of over £215,000 of billable hours. This effort has borne positive fruit with Debevoise so far helping to overturn 11 negative benefits entitlement decisions – an 83% success rate – with more cases pending. This is an incredible achievement for lawyers whose specialism is not welfare benefits and whom had never advised on any disability benefits matters prior to attending the HLC project training meeting in February 2017. 

 The project is not intended to replace a full-time welfare benefits service at Haringey Law Centre however. Rather, it aims to highlight HLC’s desperate need to be funded properly again. This is again where Debevoise has excelled in the level of support it has given to HLC. Unlike other pro bono projects which only supply volunteers, Debevoise has also provided HLC with funding to train the project’s volunteers. Thanks to Debevoise, Haringey Law Centre’s Chris Papaloizou is able to be paid one day a week.     

Haringey Law Centre is extremely grateful to Debevoise and Plimpton LLP and looks forward to celebrating its lawyers’ immense pro bono commitment to Haringey and the residents of Haringey at the 2017 LawWorks Annual Pro Bono Awards ceremony on the 5th of December! 

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