It empowers people to secure their rights, say what they want, and by representing their interests, obtain services that meet their needs. It is one of ScotsCare’s most successful service
Independent advocacy works in a very specific way. Each case is about one single issue. This can be assessments and transitions from older to newer benefits, appeals, lack of access to secure affordable housing and many others.
Who is the Advocate?
Gearóid Davey is the ScotsCare Senior Advocate. He has never been busier and the caseload he and his fellow-advocate Beverly Paterson are handling, continues to grow.
Why do we need advocacy?
This is partly because welfare reforms are making access to benefits more difficult, and generating more complaints. For example, one client was having problems with getting the correct Employment Support Allowance (ESA). His benefit had been stopped and then started without him being involved and he was on an assessment rate when he should have been on a standard rate. Advocacy support from ScotsCare enabled him to get a backdated payment of nearly £2,000.
ScotsCare’s tally in overturning decisions is impressive: “We have a 95% to 98% success rate in benefit appeals” says Gearóid. “We feel we are winning when everyone else seems to be failing.”
How does it work?
The key is that advocate and client work as a team, with the client in control.
“Advocacy has to be directed by the person who is seeking it” says Gearóid.The ScotsCare advocates job is to help the client state their case but not to speak on their behalf. To make this clear, a client is always referred to as the “advocacy partner.”
Once the partner has identified the issue, a formal agreement is drawn up between them and the advocate. “If they want to amend it in any way we will always do that. It gives us something to achieve, to work with and to fall back on,’” Gearóid explains.
The advocate’s job is to provide their partner with all the backup needed to resolve the issue: help with gathering the relevant information, answering questions, filling in forms, making appointments and generally being fully prepared for meetings or tribunals.
The Advocate will attend appointments with the partner to ensure they receive the information or services requested. One had been trying for months to get an outcome to his complaint but without success. He had made four complaints in all and so Gearoid decided to compile them into one for more impact. Evidence was gathered and a meeting was held at head office and it was agreed to draft what is called a stage three complaint. Even after this was submitted, there was still no satisfactory outcome so Gearóid was able to request a formal explanation. Finally the client was offered compensation and an apology.
It can be a long road and the Advocate will support them all the way. One successful case lasted three years. Others may take a few months. Compulsory assessments to claim ESA or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) can be very daunting. The appeal procedure is complex.
The most common areas of dispute are; complaints, housing, liaising with service providers/local authorities and social security benefits.
The advocacy service has grown from a part time role and there are now two full time advocates and a constant caseload. Gearóid says “By both advocates gaining the Independent Advocacy Qualification (IAQ) means we are in line with best practice guidelines. It lets partners and agencies know that we are a professional advocacy service and one which is focused on providing quality advocacy support’
Gearóid finds it easy to relate to social services professionals once being in that role himself. After university in his native Dublin, he joined an Irish homelessness agency. He then came to England and worked for the NHS, before joining ScotsCare five years ago.
To be a good advocate requires professionalism, patience, determination and empathy, according to Gearóid:“You have lots of local authorities where cases are dealt with in a purely automated way. Trying to get past that, requesting face to face meetings, sitting down with heads of housing or departments, you see decisions changed, because there is a real person in front of them who looks like their mother, their brother or their sister.“
If you want to contact ScotsCare’s advocates Gearóid or Beverly, you can reach them on free phone 0800 652 2989, or email firstname.lastname@example.org