The UK’s first charity to provide legal support to individuals who need access to state-funded social care has launched in partnership with Mencap and five global law firms.
Access Social Care’s mission is to ensure people to get access to the social care they need so that they can lived fulfilled lives in the community.
It also offers legal education to frontline care managers so they can spot a legal issue when it arises.
The need for social care is acute, with just 4% of local authority directors of adult social care feeling “fully confident” that they will be able to meet their care obligations this year, according to a recent ADASS survey.
Meanwhile, the Coronavirus Act has suspended duties enforced in the Care Act, placing those in need of social care in a vulnerable position.
Access Social Care charity has partnered with legal firms Fieldfisher, Orrick, Baker Mackenzie, Slaughter and May, and Shearman and Sterling, and expert barristers in the field of social care to improve access to early legal help and gather data to evidence trends of unlawful behaviour to bring about systemic change.
The charity stemmed two years ago from a project delivered by learning disabilities charity Mencap.
The project was led by Kari Gerstheimer and Jan Tregelles, the then CEO at Mencap. The partners saw the opportunity to fill a gap in the legal aid market, as many people in need of legal advice fall between the gaps every year in the UK.
Examples of how Access Social Care has supported individuals this year include preventing a local authority from cutting four people’s care packages by 50%; secured waking night support for a man dying of cancer when it was refused by a council; and securing several discharges for people with a learning disability experiencing inhumane treatment in in-patient units.
Gerstheimersaid that without access to justice, the right to social care “might as well not exist”.
“Access Social Care intends to change this by becoming a catalyst for the way the legal system and social care operates,” she said.
“We are grateful to our founders, Mencap and The Central England Law Centre for supporting us on our journey. We know that we can change people’s lives for the better by connecting our legal expertise with our member organisations and families when they need it most.”
Tregelles commented: “When I first met Kari and we began to work together in 2016 during my time as CEO at Mencap, I knew that this was a much-needed gap in an otherwise shrinking and challenged care system. We knew from the number of calls that we received to the Mencap helpline just how lost and desperate individuals and their families were. Kari’s vision inspired me, and I knew that we needed to act fast and reach out to as many people as we possibly could.”
Edel Harris, CEO of Mencap, said: “We are proud to partner with Kari and her team at Access Social Care. So many people with a learning disability in the United Kingdom desperately need this kind of support to access justice and get the care to which they have a right. We look forward to working alongside Access Social Care so that people with a learning disability in the UK can live the independent and fulfilling lives they deserve.”