Morrison & Foerster pro bono attorneys in London have joined forces with the nonprofit charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K) to handle disability benefit appeals and help clients navigate a broken social security and welfare benefits system in the UK.
Since the partnership began nearly a year ago, numerous members of the London office — including partners, associates, trainees, and paralegals — have taken on a total of 19 cases for low-income, disabled clients who were receiving disability benefits that were inadequate to cover their needs. To date, the MoFo pro bono team, led by litigation partner Gemma Anderson, have taken 13 cases to Tribunal hearings with a success rate of over 90 percent for appeals, awarding a total of more than £236,500 in additional benefits.
Gemma was first introduced to Z2K CEO Raji Hunjan while attending a meeting of the UK Collaborative Plan for Pro Bono, a group of law firms committed to increasing access to justice through pro bono legal services in the UK. “The UK Collaborative Plan meetings are a great way to uncover some of the area’s greatest needs and collaborate with other firms on the most effective use of available resources. When I heard Raji speak about their disability benefits initiative, I knew we had to help,” recalls Gemma.
The disability benefits system presents a slew of obstacles to disabled individuals seeking benefits to which they are entitled. Because the government-funded legal aid scheme does not cover disability benefit appeals, individuals without the funds to hire a lawyer can find themselves navigating the complicated appeals process alone. Since 2016, Z2K has seen a steady increase in the number of Londoners with physical and mental disabilities seeking help with disability benefits that have been stopped or reduced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Many individuals seeking to recover their benefits give up at the appeal stage because they don’t have access to legal assistance to guide them through the appeal process and take their case before the Tribunal. That’s where pro bono legal assistance can make the largest impact, as seen in the success rates that MoFo’s team has had.
Legal support and increased benefits can make a dramatic difference in our clients’ daily lives. London associate Harriet Sassoon said of one her clients, “Having been told by so many people that no one could help, the client came to us extremely despondent. I am so glad that we were able to assist him. He was remarkably resilient throughout the process and it was a great reminder of how impactful our pro bono work can be.”
Other MoFo attorneys and staff who have taken cases thus far include: Sonya Van de Graaff, Xun Choong, Alex Konjuhi, Shawna Pasquale, Mike Bell, Sam Tarrant, Isabelle Lee, Richard Jerman, Mercedes Samavi, Victoria Jacobson, Matthew Rodin, and Chris Lloyd — and the list of interested volunteers continues to grow.
Of the collaboration, Gemma says, “The partnership with Z2K has been a tremendous success and provided MoFo attorneys and staff with the opportunity to meet and advocate on behalf of a wide range of individual clients. Our volunteers have found the experience of getting to know their clients and helping them access the benefits they are entitled to extremely rewarding. The clients have been inspiring and their gratitude palpable. The Z2K team has been fantastic to work with, and provided invaluable training and guidance to our volunteers throughout.”
Learn more about the Z2K organization and the great work they are doing.