Larry O’Callaghan is a disability member of Social Entitlement Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal based in London. He spent his career working for trade unions and as an Employment Tribunal lay panel member. He has first-hand experience of living with a disability.

“Six years ago I had an out-the-blue diagnosis of cancer and my lower left leg was amputated, this ended everyone’s hopes of my ever being called up to the England football team!

“Not long after that I had the offer of voluntary redundancy which came at a time when I needed a new challenge. I accepted redundancy and focused on voluntary work for the Samaritans and Citizens Advice, offering help to people with serious problems.

“I also began looking for a people-oriented role that would be challenging and interesting. The disability member role not only met these criteria, it also carried with it a weight of civic importance, both in the context of the public purse, and of being fair to people with disabilities and health concerns. This added a sense of reward to the role and I was very pleased and honored to be selected.

Being a tribunal member

“The preparation ahead of a tribunal hearing session involves carefully reading each case file to understand both the application and the nature of the response from the Department for Work and Pensions.

“I am one part of the tribunal panel, and I work alongside a legal and medical member. My experience is that our different backgrounds somehow combine and I enjoy very much that we work as a team.

“We are each professional in preparing the cases. We discuss each case in advance to agree the issues in dispute (and also those issues not in dispute) and the nature of the questions that we need to ask. I tend to focus my questions on day to day life experiences. The medical member will have considered any written medical reports, current and past medication, and what this may indicate. The legal member will chair the hearing and at the end we ask the applicant to leave and, together, we make our decision.

“There is no hierarchy, we each explain our thinking and agree an outcome. The applicant is called back in and informed. Whether the news is good or bad, our overriding aim is that regardless of the conclusion, the applicant knows they have been listened to and leaves with dignity intact.

“As a disabled person myself I am very aware that a downturn in health can be life-changing. I also know that it is fully possible to lead a fulfilling life through being positive and willing to adapt. The fascination is that genuinely, every case is different - individuals all have their particular and distinct personalities and health experiences.

“The work is interesting and challenging, with a sharp learning curve. It is very rewarding work that allows me to employ my existing skills and undoubtedly to develop new ones. There is some travelling required which I can manage and at least working my way onto the tube means I no longer need to go to a gym for exercise!”