Written evidence from POhWER
Background & Context
POhWER is a national human rights advocacy Charity supporting everyone who needs a helping hand through advocacy to lead independent lives and to uphold their rights.
POhWER’s advocacy services are outcome-focused and client-led. Our advocates are trained to work with all clients to focus on identifying, recording and reviewing outcomes for each individual. We often receive advocacy cases related to the Coroner Service and questions about what rights people have within bereavement, death and dying. We note a significant gap in rights-led advocacy provision to enable individuals to challenge, complain and understand their rights as it pertains to death and dying.
There are currently no professional independent advocacy services available for individuals going through coroner investigation or inquest, and extremely limited access to Legal Aid where it is means tested. This often equates to a lack of fairness in the system.
Some local areas may have access to trained volunteers (5.8 Ministry of Justice (MoJ) Guide to Coroners Service for Bereaved People) who can sit with families and explain processes and provide emotional support, however this support is not available consistently across the UK. The high turnover of volunteers is problematic and inconsistent. A professional advocacy service would remove this unfairness, ensure regular availability, promote a consistent experience and establish consistent quality standards. This new advocacy model would also be accountable and provide evidence of efficacy, and remove the unevenness of support provision geographically or across lived experiences.
There is significant choice of emotional support for the bereaved, however there are no free rights-led advocacy professional services other than seeking legal advice about how to navigate the processes of the coroner’s office.
Coroners are highly unlikely to offer deep expertise on human rights related to death and dying. Asking coroners to meet unrealistic and broad standards expected of them to support bereaved families with rights-related queries (e.g. regular contact with interested persons) presents unachievable predicament to manage end of life experience. Coroners may not be potentially positioned to investigate complaints made about themselves, especially in small rural communities with limited staff. The creation of an independent professional advocacy service could ensure bereaved queries and requests for information are targeted and adhering to government guidance, as with IHCAS, Advocacy under the Care Act and s.39(D) IMCA roles currently.
Examples of cases POhWER has recently handled
Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA)
If someone doesn’t have capacity to make an important decision about their care and treatment there is a danger that the decision made will not reflect their views and wishes. IMCAs represent people who don’t have appropriate friends or family to speak for them.
Recent case examples include:
Relevant Person’s Paid Representative (RPPR)
Our RPPRs make sure that people’s rights are upheld when they are deprived of their liberty.
Examples include being contacted by coroner after we have been recorded as next of kin for clients whom had died whilst under DoLS This was high contact when dying whilst under DoLS constituted death in custody, however we have regular experience of this still happening to date across our regions.
In cases where the individual had no friends or family, care homes and or hospitals have sometimes cited POhWER’s advocate’s names as the persons advocate or ‘representative’. In these cases, the coroner has called POhWER asking about funeral arrangements etc. We have explained each time that our role to coroners and that we are unable to take on any of the duties they require, and sometimes this has been gratefully received and they advised they will update their information, other times the person we spoken to has been dissatisfied that we could not help.
Independent Health Complaints Advocacy Service (IHCAS)
When things go wrong with healthcare or treatment people often don’t know where to turn. Our advocates can explain the options and support people who choose to make a complaint.
We have supported clients to make complaints around aspects of an individual’s deaths by the bereaved which have included interaction with coroner or coroner’s conduct.
These include in last 3-6 months:
Information, Advice and Advocacy Support (HertsHelp)
POhWER’s advocacy role is often misunderstood by Care Homes and the Coroner Service.
A recent example included where the HertsHelp team received two unsolicited calls from a Care Home Manager after a client passed away asking for POhWER to be involved in the removal of the body.
How the creation of an advocacy service promotes fairness
There is only public funding for legal representation at inquests in certain circumstances (4.3 MoJ Guide to Coroners Service for Bereaved People) and they will be means tested after applying for Legal Aid under Exceptional Case Funding Scheme (4.4). Future funding and the creation of an independent professional advocacy service could reduce the financial impact and volume of those accessing the scheme if a trained independent advocate could support the bereaved throughout the investigation and or inquest process.
Chief Coroner’s Guidance on COVID-19 issued 26.03.20 references remote hearings may take place by whatever means. This guidance does not address interested persons and how they may take part in proceedings. Not everyone has access to a telephone or computer with video calling applications. Many people live with disability and experience barriers to digital access.
We have not been able to locate any guidance in easy read or other formats which meet Accessible Information Standards (e.g. Easy Read, Tagged for Software Readers). Professional advocates are trained to explain information to various client groups in simple easy to understand terminology empowering individuals to make independent choices.
Promoting engagement for the bereaved
By providing an independent professional advocacy service where there are multiple family members involved could support them to engage and understand the processes involved and produce targeted queries, and consequently progress the investigation and or inquest at an accelerated level for all involved.
s.61 Chief Coroner’s Guide to Coroners and Justice Act 2009 states ‘It is not intended that the coroner has to contact all family members listed in section 47(2)(a). In practice the coroner needs one point of contact with the family (or occasionally more than one when the family is divided) and any other interested persons that have made themselves known to the coroner.
Challenging a coroner’s decision is a complex issue and independent professional advocacy could provide impartial pros and cons of pursuing this avenue should interested person wish to do so. Complaints against coroner for their actions could also be improved as it provides similar approach to IHCAS service where the complainant is given support to appropriately word their complaint, and to understand the complaint processes and outcomes.
What we want to see:
Creation of independent professional advocacy service for ALL persons whom wish to access this and the same rights for every postcode and region of Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales, and for the entire coroner process.
This new advocacy service would focus on delivering three areas of support:
POhWER was established in 1996 by our founders all of whom had disabilities and were fighting social injustice and challenges in their lives. POhWER supports marginalised, vulnerable and social excluded people through its’ charitable work across the UK.
We look at everyone who needs a helping hand through advocacy to lead independent lives and to uphold their rights. https://www.pohwer.net/