Hackney Community Law Centre could close after council slashes funding by 45%
PUBLISHED: 16:14 26 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:56 27 March 2019
A law centre offering free legal advice on housing, immigration and discrimination says it could close next year after almost half of its grant funding was cut by the council.
Hackney Community Law Centre is a charity employing solicitors and paralegals to help people going through legal issues who cannot afford lawyers.
It is regarded as one of the leading law centres in the country – but last night the council’s cabinet approved potentially devastating cuts of 45 per cent. Over the next two years it will receive £115,000, down from £203,000 and bringing the total cuts to the centre to £148,340 since 2017.
The centre says it will have to consider cutting its immigration department, just as Brexit looms, and cutting staff from its housing legal advice team – at a time it is needed more than ever.
The centre recently helped 62-year-old Delbert Myrie Clarke, part of the Windrush generation, challenge the Home Office over his citizenship after a four-year ordeal.
The board of trustees has blamed the new policy that dishes out the council’s voluntary and community sector advice grants pot across more groups. The town hall says the new approach is needed as public services evolve to deal with complex social problems, but the centre – which along with the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and Deafplus participated in an independent review of the funding – argues it has left “possibly unqualified” groups being given cash.
“We know austerity from the government has impacted all our services but this is a deliberate and unconsulted sudden change of policy of redistribution of the grants pot,” said Cllr Denis Oguzkanli, on behalf of the board. “It has also left Hackney CAB reeling from a major cut, whilst other untried and possibly unqualified groups have been given significant sums.”
Manager Sean Canning said he was surprised national organisations, such as Shelter and, receiving funding “at the expense of local organisations”.
He said: “Law centres, and advice agencies like ours, are very dependent on funding from the council, and in the past Hackney has been very supportive. That funding helps to bridge the gaps in legal aid provision, slashed by the government in 2013 – and helps to provide a holistic ‘wrap-around’ approach to problems presented by clients.”
Last-minute talks asking the council to defer the cuts were not successful. Sean added: “They were not sympathetic, offering only £35,000 over the first two quarters, which is welcome but will not help what will be a longer term slide to a deficit budget and possible closure in 2020, according to our figures.”
Hackney’s voluntary sector chief Cllr Caroline Selman said: “While some organisations have been allocated a smaller share of grant funding this year, the recommended combination of providers will result in a service that better meets the needs of residents, delivering what matters to them.”
Shelter said it was a local charity, which has provided services in Hackney for decades.
Connie Cullen, Hackney hub manager, said: “This vital funding allows us to provide a desperately needed housing advisor in Hackney, working alongside other community organisations and the Council to provide expert advice on a range of housing and homelessness issues. This collaborative approach is key to addressing the local needs of our Hackney communities.”