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 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 59%.
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 75%, compared with previ-ous years. We estimate that, at present, about 90 of these cases are available, annually, for our volunteers in London.
This means that you should think carefully before signing up for the next training day. We have reduced the number of available places to 200. Our experience is that about two-thirds of can-didates who sit the test pass and become qualified to take on a case. Potentially, therefore, there will be about 130 people looking for cases following the training day (not including existing volunteers or those from other training days).
This means that there will be significantly more volunteers looking than cases available. Many volunteers will struggle to locate a suitable case within the deadline of 12 months, unless they are able to spend significant time in the FRU office waiting for a case to become available. Un-fortunately, attending the training day and passing the test does not guarantee you will find a case to take on.
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 volunteer-ing for Social Security, where more cases are available.
There has also been a significant drop in the number of Social Security cases being referred to FRU. This appears to be the result of issues with the DWP's contract with ATOS to assess bene-fit recipients, as well as problems with the introduction of new benefits such as PIP.
But, in the last few years, FRU has received far more cases than we were able to place with volunteers. Despite the drop, we estimate that there will continue to be at least 200 Any Rep cases referred annually.
Nonetheless, we have also reduced the number of places on the training day to 200, in response to the drop in referrals. By doing so, we believe we can ensure that most volunteers who want to take on a social security case will be able to do so.
We will also keep the situation in social security under review.