for people with dementia
Run by the School of Law at The University of Manchester, the Dementia Law Clinic provides free advice to people with dementia and their families.
The Dementia Law Clinic helps families with life-changing issues, such as planning ahead with lasting powers of attorney, determining whether to stay at home with care or move in to residential care, and whether they are eligible for free NHS care.
What sets this clinic apart from similar set-ups is that it doesn’t just focus on legal advice – it works in partnership with the health and social care charity, Making Space, to provide nursing advice and emotional and practical support – making it a holistic service for a whole host of issues surrounding dementia.
Neil Allen, Senior Lecturer in Law and founder of the clinic, explains the benefits of this provision:
“If you put yourself in the shoes of a family member of someone living with dementia, you can see it’s not just the legal issues they might need help with. Often there might be nursing issues as well, or they might be struggling to cope”.
As the main carer for someone with dementia, family members often struggle to come out to a physical clinic for advice. With that in mind, the Dementia Law Clinic makes sure it’s as accessible as possible to families, ideally by conducting appointments with them in their own homes via Skype.
But the clinic is still very accessible to those without Skype, says Neil:
“Many families don’t have Skype at home, so the next best thing is the hotspots that we’ve set up with Making Space. These are dementia-friendly places, like day centres or memory clinics – somewhere they’re familiar with, where there will be a computer set up with Skype for them to use, and training if they need it.”
This innovative clinic stemmed from the increased political focus on the needs of those living with dementia, when the government was promoting its Dementia Challenge in 2015.
Since then, it’s gone from strength to strength, says Neil:
“We started off with a pilot in 2015/16 to try and gauge the demands, and this year we’ve been running the clinic every week – it’s mostly been full, and there’s a lot of demand from families that need help. Our provision has grown – we now have 11 lawyers that specialise in this area of law who generously volunteer their time to running the clinic, and we’re now looking to expand even further.
“We’re currently looking at adapting this model to support those with learning disabilities which may be our next big area for expansion.”
As part of the Legal Advice Centre based at the University, undergraduate and postgraduate students get the opportunity to be a part of the initiative. Neil explains some of the benefits:
“It gives them a taste of law in real life, which is often very different from law in a text book. It also enables them to better understand the law and have a deeper learning approach to the law. Crucially, they’re reaching out to the public, they’re meeting qualified lawyers, and they’re able to develop their interpersonal skills.”
The Dementia Law Clinic has turned heads already, winning three awards in the last twelve months: the Attorney General Student Awards, the Manchester Legal Awards, and the University’s Making a Difference Award.
One of the main reasons for its success is that the innovative model makes justice much more accessible through technology. Neil says:
“The use of technology in the profession is growing – I think there’s a long way to go, but the potential is huge. Any way we can use technology to make it easier for a member of the public to get advice is obviously a good thing.
“The lawyers that volunteer their time are a precious commodity and, contrary to some media portrayals, lawyers have a very longstanding ethical backbone, and they like to give back as much as they can. Using technology in this way makes it easier for them to do so – it’s saving them time – they can volunteer from their offices, rather than having to travel.”
We’re currently looking at adapting this model to support those with learning disabilities which may be our next big area for expansion.Neil Allen / Senior Lecturer in Law and clinic founder
The demand for services like these is not going to slow down, says Neil:
“What we’re currently facing is quite a significant proportion of the older population that desperately need legal advice. If they went down the traditional route, they would have to pay for it, and it can be expensive. So, we’re trying to plug the gap regarding those questions that you do need a qualified lawyer to answer, but obviously if you can get it for free, then all the better!
“We need to provide whatever support we can to enable people with dementia to remain at home, and to do our best to keep couples together when one of them has dementia. Sadly, it’s often money that dictates options when it comes to where people are cared for, so we’ve got to do our best to use the resources we have to enable people to spend their twilight years where they want or would want to.”