EEA Public Services Research Clinic: EEA PSRC

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: York Law School


What does transition mean for EEA nationals in the UK? How will future uncertainty affect their ability to claim existing rights now? And will they face administrative obstacles, or discrimination when accessing public services? This project seeks to tackle these questions, to avoid the problems posed by transition from being neglected as researchers look beyond transition.

In theory, legal rights will remain mostly unchanged during transition. In practice, however, the perception and anticipation of change can create uncertainty and confusion, which affects how easily rights are accessed. The PI's recent research on the EU Rights Project suggested that risks to administrative justice become more acute in periods of legal transition, making this study vital. The period of transition could be administratively intense, with a lot of people attempting to secure rights, through congested decision-making machinery. In the face of time pressure, insufficient capacity, hastily-produced guidance and confusion over the law, there is a risk that EEA nationals will face obstacles to accessing public services, and these factors could disempower those at greatest risk of social exclusion.

This project will capture the human dimension of transition, documenting how guidance, confusion and changes in attitudes play out in accessing public services. We will set up the first ever national EEA legal action research clinic, receiving cases from advice organisations working with EEA nationals, in order to document the problems in accessing public services like social security, housing, health and social care, as a result of, e.g. administrative hurdles, erroneous decisions, poor guidance, or changing administrative culture and attitudes. The clinic will, in parallel, offer specialist, second tier advice and drafting support to advisers from around the UK, on the rights and entitlements of EEA nationals during transition.

EEA PSRC will push the boundaries of legal research, embedding legal action research within EU legal studies, as a means to uncover obstacles to justice that would otherwise remain invisible. It will draw upon the methodology pioneered by the EU Rights Project - advice-led ethnography, which produces rich, compelling data, and important evidence of law in action. EEAPSRC builds on this - to produce a legal action research clinic in its own right, with a national reach, clinic student teams, and a focus on systemic administrative problems arising from the state of transition, and a study of the effects of uncertainty upon administrative justice.

This empirical work bridges a gap between academic legal theory and practical advice work, by bringing together the PI's technical knowledge of both EU law and UK public law, her Citizens Advice case work experience, her clinic directorship experience, and the resources of the YLS clinic team. The project also bridges disciplinary gaps; in order to gather as wide a range of reported problems as possible, clinic fieldwork will be synthesised with interviews with MPs, MEPs, NGOs, and representatives of EU institutions - all have experiences of working with many EEA nationals. To get a sense of the potential scale of the problems identified through the clinic and interviews, we will also analyse new data sets as they are released during the course of the project, on public service eligibility and access.

Together these elements will form a rich, nation-wide, interdisciplinary analysis of the effects of transition upon EEA nationals' rights, with significant impact potential. In gathering data from around the UK on how transition plays out in EEA nationals' relationships with UK public services, and on institutional practices that impede access to justice for EEA nationals, while offering expertise to nationwide networks of legal advisers, EEA PSRC will be a national hub - and a European leader - for legal action research.

Planned Impact

Impact is integral to the research design across all the work packages. The project aims to produce impacts for the following non-academic beneficiaries:

Advisers: The project provides tangible, immediate impacts for advisers working with EEA nationals in organisations round the country, who will benefit from accessing second tier advice through the clinic. The advice will help them better support their clients, and better understand the law and the options for action before them. Support with drafting will also improve their legal skills and confidence. The project also aims to improve practice among advisers when it comes to advising EEA nationals independently - without clinic support, through training and adviser-directed outputs.

EEA nationals: The clients of advisers accessing the clinic should receive more comprehensive advice as a result, and be in a better position to assess options and make decisions on their cases. The project has broader aims as well, to create positive impacts for the EEA national population in the UK; where the project is able to identify systemic problems, EEA nationals should benefit from these issues having been discovered, raised, and challenged; this research should improve their access to administrative justice. It should also help to combat any culture of administrative confusion, and attitudinal or discriminatory barriers. The project also aims to highlight the risks of injustice faced by EEA national groups at particular risk of social exclusion - lone parents, children, people with disabilities, and victims of domestic abuse. If the difficulties they face are exposed and analysed, this could lead to improved practice, as well as providing helpful evidence for NGOs working with those particular groups.

Administrative decision makers: This project should provide useful feedback to decision makers, and to the authorities ultimately responsible for public service practice. It should highlight systemic problems, and make recommendations as to practice, e.g. with regard to guidance issued, and other ways to combat confusion. It should also showcase examples of good practice.

Politicians: The project aims to improve politicians' understanding of the problems faced by EEA nationals in their constituencies, and also increase their awareness of similar problems faced elsewhere in the country, to promote information sharing between MPs and MEPs, and facilitate coordinated responses.

The public: Through drawing on a wide range of data, this EEA PSRC should be able to draw up a picture of the human experiences of Brexit and transition, and of changing relationships with public services. With a number of public facing activities planned, the project should raise public awareness and increase understanding, to help tackle media - and political - confusion and misinformation.

Monitoring bodies: The Equality and Human Rights Commission and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child are charged with safeguarding human rights; this project should provide valuable information about the risks faced by vulnerable groups, helping those bodies compile evidence and devise strategies. The project would also feed into UK parliamentary committees and bodies responsible for overseeing, or offering analysis on, the effects and experiences of transition. This would help them to formulate recommendations and requirements for ensuring best practice and access to justice.

Legal practitioners: Lawyers and judges would have an interest in better understanding the nature of administrative obstacles faced by EEA nationals. This work would increase their understanding of pre-litigation obstacles to access to justice. In some cases, the project may also produce evidence or outputs valuable for judicial review. In others, evidence may also reveal obstacles within the tribunal setting, helping legal practitioners identify possible improvements in practice.


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