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Forum Home  →  Discussion  →  Access to justice and advice sector issues  →  Thread

How Disturbing is This?

Stainsby
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Welfare rights adviser - Plumstead Community Law Centre

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I accidentally came across a website for an organisation called Tribune Legal Practice Welfare Benefit Paralegals

https://tribunelegalpractice.co.uk/

They charge £175 for simple form filling and 40% for no win no fee appeals. (The Minsistry of Justice caps solicitors fees at 25%)

They have some disparaging things to say about advice workers in the charitable sector (i.e us)

They run from a PO Box in Bournmouth and the person running this outfit has the same name as the Director of a company called Tribune Legal Services Ltd. (Registered office in Bournmouth)

That company was dissolved in 2018 ( I have uploaded various documents from Companies House for reference)

[ Edited: 24 Feb 2024 at 11:21 am by Stainsby ]

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Gareth Morgan
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CEO, Ferret, Cardiff

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What does “The fee is non-tangible” mean?

A quick calculation of their fee structure, they say “up to 35 hours labour dedicated per appeal” and “your appeal will usually have a monetary value in between £4000 to £6000”  Taking the full time and £5,000 then their hourly rate, at 40% of the ‘take’ is £57.14 an hour.

That might not be unreasonable, if they don’t cherry pick, but, of course they will.

I had a quick look through UT decisions for his name (He being the ‘team’ according to the website), finding only one , where it was kindly said “...I have to say I formed a very different impression to that given by the Appellant’s representative”.  The only one of the UC cases he refers to that I could find, explained his important contribution as “...The claimant’s representative, perhaps unsurprisingly given the stance taken on behalf of the Secretary of State, did not have very much more to say”

Hmm.

Stainsby
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Welfare rights adviser - Plumstead Community Law Centre

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One of his clients posted on his Facebook page singing his praises

I could not find the case in question ( UA-2023-000740 PIP ) on the UT website so I have emailed the UT to ask for a copy

I was thinking the same thing lets have a look at his contribution

On the question of the hourly rate he is effectively charging, he also says that claimants should never accept an offer from the DWP before the appeal is determined.

The proper advice would depend on the case and I always look at offers on a case by case basis . I generally advise my clients to accept.  That way they get their money up front and we can then consider a fresh appeal without the need to go through MR

It does of course increase his fees if his clients never accept

I have a few cases where I have done about 35hrs work and by the time it gets back from the UT and put into payment the client’s arrears are about £26K

40% will be £10400 not bad for 35hrs work

Can you imagine a voluntary sector post being advertised ” earnings up to £10400 a week”?

JonUCN
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Gareth Morgan - 24 February 2024 12:51 PM

What does “The fee is non-tangible” mean?

Auto-correct from ‘non-negotiable’. Or, maybe they only take payment in bitcoin.

On a serious note, I’m unsure what this thread is going to achieve here. If this practitioner is either being underhand (which I don’t see the evidence for), or not good value for money, I don’t see that analysing their work in this forum is the best way to address either concern. Or if this is going to happen, it seems fair to invite them to comment and respond?

There are perhaps wider points to be made about whether welfare rights advice should be more tightly regulated, both in terms of charging, and quality control, but I don’t know if this example is a good starting off point for that debate.

Just my opinion.

Mike Hughes
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Sadly not the only organisation of its apparent type in the UK.

past caring
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Welfare Rights Adviser - Southwark Law Centre, Peckham

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Well it conceivably might prompt a wider discussion. The forum also brings up results when people do a google search, so it might alert potential customers for issues to be aware of and questions to ask if they’re considering engaging him.

On the wider discussion, a few (probably random) points - some will doubtless have a London-centric bias.

In some (many) parts of the country, people are going to find it difficult to access expert and free welfare benefits advice and representation. We know the reasons for that - those services just aren’t funded any longer. That does not just mean they aren’t available now. It also means that there is a disincentive for potential expert welfare benefits advisers to enter the profession and to acquire expertise - and that has been the case for some time.

When I started in this game some 25 years back, there was a career path. And when legal aid became available for people delivering social security advice in community advice centres, that provided both an incentive to greater expertise and an even clearer career path for people like myself who didn’t see themselves as managers. But much of that has gone. It means there are just not people entering the field in many parts of the country and even when they do, there aren’t necessarily the experts around to mentor them.

We have advertised for welfare rights case workers twice in the past two years. On neither occasion were we able to recruit at that level (we just didn’t have the applications) and so had to recruit at paralegal level instead. That in turn had a knock-on effect on my work; I’ve had to spend time training them when there is no additional funding for that and where the time taken to provide that support and training has to come out of the time I should be spending on my own casework.

So I can understand both why claimants might feel they have no choice but to pay for expert advice and why actual experts themselves might feel they have no choice but to set up in business themselves.

I consider myself really lucky; when I shipped up here nearly 7 years ago, I found myself in the best job and with the best employer I’ve ever had. But things can change - I don’t know what the funding position might be next year or the year after. I love my work, if I were to lose my current job, I would want neither to retire or to try something entirely new. But I don’t think I could go back to working in an organisation that would not allow me to engage my expertise - there are very few opportunities in London, so if that were to happen I might well have to consider setting up myself.

I don’t know how one could regulate the sector. I don’t see how one could set up, monitor and enforce an agreed standard of expertise and experience in circumstances where the number of people who already have that is ever-dwindling - and where there is very little incentive for people to enter the field.

Legal aid worked for both claimants and advisers; claimants had some assurance that if an advice agency had a contract in welfare benefits, the advisers had an agreed set of competencies - and advisers were encouraged to maintain their knowledge and to broaden and develop it.

Elliot Kent
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I don’t think that we can have a conversation about the general issue in the context of picking on an individual provider.

Mike Hughes
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Always fascinating to have a look at these sites. Their views on DWP offers are interesting. Apparently completely illegal. Erm…

If anyone would like to broaden the discussion…

I’ve seen one attempt to charge a 3 figure sum to someone for appeal papers to be taken to another service on the pretext of having previewed the papers. Of course the latter could not be evidenced; new papers could be obtained for nowt from HMCTS and all the threats of legal action came to nowt.

Far far worse goes on. Always interesting to inherit appeal papers where the claimant has never seen the claim pack which was completed on their behalf and doesn’t recognise themselves within it. Hardly a surprise when the rep. talked about appearing in person but almost never did.

Interesting times.