Who? Carla Clarke, solicitor at Child Poverty Action Group.
Why is she in the news? Acted for two clients in a test case challenging Department for Work and Pensions restrictions on benefit claimants accessing the social security appeals system.
Since 2013, a claimant wishing to challenge a refusal of benefit has to apply for a mandatory reconsideration of that refusal before appealing to an independent tribunal. The DWP’s position has been that, where it decides that the mandatory reconsideration application is made too late, there is no right of appeal.
The Upper Tribunal rejected the DWP’s interpretation of the relevant legislation, finding that it results ‘in a significant number of vulnerable claimants not getting the benefits to which they are entitled’.
Thoughts on the case: ‘It’s hugely important, restoring full appeal rights for potentially hundreds of thousands of welfare benefit claimants. This is all the more important in an environment where, as the UT acknowledged, the scope of legal aid, and local authority and advice sector provision to enable claimants to navigate the benefits claims and appeal systems, have been reduced drastically.’
Dealing with the media: ‘A bit like litigation – unpredictable so handle with care.’
Why become a lawyer? ‘I’m a reluctant lawyer. I started out in engineering (could not visualise sufficiently in 3D) and have tried development work (too frustrated with the sector’s lack of tackling structural injustices pre- the adoption of a human rights-based approach to development). I turned to law when I learnt about economic and social rights which are just as important, if as poorly understood or protected, in this country as in less developed countries.’
Career low: ‘The Legal Aid Agency. You do not want to know how difficult it was for me and my predecessor (Mike Spencer) to secure public funding to get this challenge off the ground – and even then we only managed to get funding for one of the clients.’