Belinda Schwehr 

Belinda is a legal author, academic and independent commentator, offering training and consultancy to anyone in social care who is interested in legal rights.

 Having obtained an LLB and LLM in Public Law, she re-qualified as a solicitor-advocate, specialising in social services and health law in a ‘niche’ practice in the City. Her brief was to generate interest in social services law, amongst local authorities, so as to bring in legal work.

She did this through offering training and became fascinated in the way the adult social care sector actually operated, within a legal framework and against an ever growing body of case law, largely un-studied by all involved, although affecting people’s rights and councils’ obligations on a daily basis. She soon learned the language of care management from practitioner audiences, who seemed hungry for ‘the bottom line’; and the more she learned the more surreal social work soon became for her. Commissioning functions, for instance, completely separated from assessment, legal advice and resource allocation, within a council? Employed social workers trying to be advocates for the client whilst being told that they would only be promoted if they cut people’s packages and never went above the cost of residential care for a package of care at home? Management running monthly quotas for residential care placements on the basis of the state of the budget at that precise time? And this was all in the 1990s!

She left practice in 2003 to become a full time consultant and trainer in the field, rather than a litigator. She is now self-employed and runs a thriving business, called Care and Health Law. At any one time, she advises about 20 organisations and authorities. Belinda personally visits over 50 public sector bodies, annually, to provide health and social services updates on case law developments and the statutory framework. She does pro bono work when she can and when the legal issue is interesting enough or the client is very much in need of help and unable to get it elsewhere because of what has happened to Law Centre funding and to advocacy.

The aim of Belinda’s business is to spread knowledge amongst councils’ staff from all sections with in adults’ services, amongst statutory, private and third sector providers, and amongst advocates, carers and service users, from a legally neutral perspective. The idea is to prevent or resolve disputes, before positions become entrenched and to ensure that the system runs the way it was actually supposed to…

During times of training famine Belinda carries out more consultancy, neutral dispute resolution and advice work and has developed webinars to reach the provider and user led group market. She also works as a regular legal consultant for the Association of Directors of Adults Services and TLAP, ensuring that her expertise in strategic managerial issues is growing all the time.

In addition, her business offers a knowledge-based social care legal information website, which can be accessed for free or inexpensively, depending on the depth of usage desired by those who visit. It is called www.careandhealthlaw.com. It has about 3000 registrants.

Belinda’s collaborative working and ‘standing’ with Directors/ADs and other stakeholders

In 2010/11 Belinda worked with ADASS’s personalisation lead, Jeff Jerome, on the lawful delivery of personalisation (Putting People First – a DH initiative). Belinda wrote the national guidance on the ADASS website for all local authorities and public access as to how personalisation can be operated consistently with the current legal framework for adults’ social care. She procured and supervised the production of the Commissioning guidance for councils on that same website and provided input to the TLAP consortium as and when needed.

She is currently working with the Law Commission and the DH on changes to the adults’ services legal framework.

 Belinda has worked in a training capacity with the Local Government Ombudsman’s HQ in relation to its new jurisdiction over disputes with private sector providers of social care.

She was grant funded by the Department of Health to put on a Mental Capacity Act awareness raising Podcast in 2007. She authored and presented a Legal Network Television Continuing Professional Development DVD on Mental Capacity and wrote the accompanying notes.

She conceived, developed and distributed an E-learning package on the Mental Capacity Act in 2007, which was taken up by 25 authorities for use potentially for 10,000 staff and individuals in each authority. She completed a Deprivation of Liberty additional module for the pack, for care homes and hospitals, in 2009.

 Belinda had influence over the content of the fairly recent ADASS advice note to all councils regarding the interpretation of the new National Framework for continuing NHS care funding. She advised the Health Service Ombudsman in relation to that Office’s views before it responded to the government’s consultation exercise on this matter.

She was commissioned by the Housing LIN to prepare advice notes on mental incapacity and the impact it has on the ability of people of all ages, to take up tenancies in supported living.

She is working with about 6-10 national providers on how to beat the current cuts, using the clients’ legal rights.