Volunteering for FRU gives you the opportunity to represent clients in front of Social Security and Employment tribunals. You will normally take on a case a few weeks before the hearing. You will be responsible for preparing the case for trial as well as the advocacy itself.
Being a FRU volunteer is a significant responsibility. You will need to commit a good deal of time and effort to your cases. But, in return, you will gain invaluable experience. You will also make a real contribution by assisting FRU's clients, who otherwise face attending the tribunal alone.
FRU volunteers take on cases that have been referred from front-line advice agencies. When a case is referred, it will have already been presented to the relevant tribunal, who will have listed a hearing.
Fully prepared, you will attend the tribunal to represent your client before a judge.
You will be supervised by our legal officers, who provide advice and support on the law and the Tribunal process you must follow.
FRU works in two areas of law, Social Security and Employment, detailed below. If you are interested in volunteering, read the section of this website titled 'Becoming a volunteer'.
FRU appears in the First Tier Tribunal (Social Entitlement Chamber), dealing with both benefits and criminal injury compensation appeals.
Most of FRU's social security work concerns disputes about incapacity and disability. Broadly, these occur where a client has applied for benefits on the basis of a physical or mental incapacity, but have been refused benefits. FRU volunteers assemble medical evidence and present their client's case to the tribunal, who decide whether the appellant is entitled to benefit payments. If you progress, you may assist clients with a wide range of social security disputes, including overpayments as well as judicial reviews and appeals before the Upper Tribunal. You may also wish to move into criminal injuries work.
Social Security practice will introduce you to the application of complex statutory schemes to real cases. This is important to all areas of practice, but particularly to further work in administrative law. You will see, and help, a wide range of people and develop an understanding of UK-wide social security provision.
Straightforward Social Security cases take between one and two days of work to prepare. Many volunteers take on five or more cases over the course of a year, which allows them to develop their skills and to progress to cases involving more difficult points of law and witness handling.
Once you take on a case you will conference with your client, assemble evidence to support their claim and prepare a written submission. On the day, you will attend the tribunal to represent your client's interests during the hearing and ensure that the relevant evidence is drawn to the tribunal's attention.
FRU appears in the Employment Tribunal, on behalf of claimants.
Most of FRU's work involves claims for unfair dismissal, unlawful deduction of wages and wrongful dismissal claims. More experienced volunteers take on more complicated cases, including those involving discrimination, TUPE and appeals to the Employment Appeal Tribunal
As well as introducing you to practical employment law, employment cases will hone your advocacy skills (in particular witness handling) as well as giving you experience of negotiation and trial preparation.
Once you take on a case you will conference with your client, organise the disclosure process, draft a witness statement and generally prepare the case for tribunal. You will also produce a schedule of loss and negotiate with the other side. On the day, you will attend to represent your client, cross-examine the respondent's witnesses and make submissions to the tribunal.
The introduction of employment tribunal fees in July 2013 has caused a substantial drop in the number of cases brought to the tribunal. The latest MoJ statistics indicate that the number of single claims has dropped by 70%.
Since FRU represents people without the means to pay for representation, the effect on FRU's caseload has been even more dramatic. In 2014 the number of 'Any Rep' cases (those suitable for a volunteer without previous experience) has dropped by about 80%, compared with previous years. We estimate that, at present, about 90 of these cases are available, annually, for our volunteers in London.
Given this reduction, we have decided to significantly reduce the number of volunteers we train. In October 2014, we trained 200 people (a significant reduction from training days of 300-350). In retrospect, this was still too many. We have therefore decided to restrict the number of people training on the first training day of 2015 to 50 people. We also intend to push the training back into February, rather than January, to allow the current volunteers an opportunity to take on cases. We will review whether we should hold a training day in May.
We hope that this will mean that people who attend the training and pass the test will be able to find cases to take on, despite the reduced referrals.
We also anticipate that places on the training will go quickly and that this will be frustrating for those who do not get on. But we feel it is better for potential volunteers to be frustrated about not getting on the training, rather than having gone through the training -- at some time and expense – only then to be disappointed by a lack of cases.
FRU is doing its best to ensure that we receive as many referrals as possible and will continue to review training day numbers throughout the year. You may also want to consider volunteering for Social Security.
We are experiencing a drop in the number of social security cases being referred to FRU and are closely monitoring the situation. We have reduced the numbers on the February training day to 200 in response. Again, this is to ensure that there are cases for the volunteers we train to take on. We will continue to monitor the situation. We may decide to restrict numbers further in the future or cancel one of the training days.