Jonathan Freeman MBE, CEO, CareTech Foundation
“In England, justice is open to all – like The Ritz.” So quipped judge Sir James Matthew at the turn of the 20th century. The sad reality is that justice and the law, as Sir James was highlighting a century ago, is all too often only really open to those with the financial means to afford it. This is particularly true for community care-related law where those without the funds to engage lawyers on private rates are far too often unable to access to which they are legally entitled. The CareTech Foundation’s new partnership with Access Social Care seeks to address this denial of legal rights to so many.
The Foundation and Access Social Care recently signed a new partnership to launch a ‘legal chatbot.’ The chatbot delivers legal information about community care and welfare benefits, to older or disabled people, their families, and carers. It offers free legal advice to people with social care needs and supports them to get the care they are entitled to. As two leading social care focused charities, this partnership really makes sense!
Over the last three years, with an aging population, COVID-19, and the impact of the cost of living crisis, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of older and disabled people across the country struggling to get the health and social care to which they have a right. There are half a million people currently waiting for assessments for care and support provision, and 94% of adult social services directors in England do not believe there is the funding or workforce to meet care costs in their area.
We know that there are laws that guarantee us our basic rights. However, in a time of crisis, many people are simply too overwhelmed to challenge the system, don’t know their rights, and cannot afford lawyers. There is also a lack of legal support available; since 2010, there has been a 77% reduction in community care legal aid cases, and 67% of the population do not have access to a community care legal aid provider in their local authority area. This innovative new partnership will ensure that, during this difficult time, the chatbot will help to ensure that individuals get the advice and support to which they are legally entitled.
In response to soaring demand for community care law advice, this partnership will develop on the existing ground-breaking and award-winning online chatbot – a piece of artificial intelligence that is co-designed and produced with experts by experience. Available 24/7 to anyone who needs it, the free chatbot provides legal information accessible in different formats. Users are also easily able to create a personalised template letter with details of their specific situation, which can be sent to local bodies to ask for support and challenge social care decisions. Using legal and rights-based language is very effective; these letters have been tested with real users and are proven to improve social care outcomes.
Furthermore, together we will aim to broaden the legal information and advice available through the chatbot. This will include developing more culturally appropriate content for underserved communities, who have statistically worse social care outcomes. Through the Foundation’s in-kind agreement, staff within CareTech Ltd will also have the opportunity to feed into the design and content of the chatbot to help improve the user experience. The more people that engage with it, the better it becomes!
Saera, a social prescriber working in Croydon, told Access Social Care:
“I had been trying for over six months to get a social care assessment for a family I was helping – even though there were serious safeguarding concerns. I used your chatbot and the local authority called back on the same day to arrange the assessment! Using rights-based language can be transformative”.
Access Social Care is one of the last remaining specialist health and social care advice providers in the country. Their 14-person legal team have a 98% success rate, but with millions of people being denied the care they have a right to there is an urgent need to reach more people, fast. This is not a need that can be met with individual casework alone, which is why the chatbot is a vital piece of technology.
Without access to justice, our rights do not exist. At the heart of this work is a commitment to putting people first: equipping anyone who needs it with free, expert information twenty-four hours a day and empowering them to fight for the social care to which they and their clients are entitled.
All of us at the Care Foundation are thrilled to be able to support this brilliant service and much-needed innovation to enable those with social care needs to optimise their legal rights.
We encourage everyone in social care to connect with us so we can improve the chatbot and enhance understanding and provision of legal rights of those connected to the sector.
Let’s make accessible legal advice a right – and a reality – for all so that individuals in need can get the social care to which they are legally entitled!