CUTS to legal aid services are having a devastating effect on the most vulnerable people in Brent and will leave them ‘disadvantaged’, according to an advice service.
Legal aid funding was dramatically cut by the coalition government from April 1 and, coupled with other changes to welfare systems, disadvantaged people in the borough are now ‘on their own’.
Ian Kane, coordinator of Brent Community Law Centre, in High Road, Willesden, said: “We are getting more and more queries from people who we can’t help. People are more strung out because they are more desperate and they get angry and these people are left high and dry, there is no one to help them.”
Brent Council continues to fund the telephone advice line and deals with 5,000 people each year. They previously offered advice for housing, debt, welfare benefits and immigration, but now only a small area of housing advice is given, such as if a resident is at risk of homelessness or their life is at risk.
Brent Community Law Centre used to assist 400 housing cases each year, but now their funding is limited to 100 cases.
They work in partnership with Brent Citizen’s Advice Bureau and the Private Tenants Rights Group and, in total, they can deal with 400 case between them – down from 1,200.
Mr Kane said: “We are desperately trying everything we can and we are looking at ways of raising funds. The government has pulled so much funding that we can’t go to the traditional sources as they are over-stretched with applications. It is taking away people’s right to justice and their access to justice.”
The law centre has lost three full-time members of staff.
CAB is also undergoing changes and four full-time advisers are being asked to reapply for a reduced number of positions, but it is unclear how many will be taken on.
In addition to this, eligibility for legal aid was made more stringent by the government on April 1.
One consequence have had to represent themselves in court and Mr Kane said this will lead to cases taking longer through the courts.
Fernando Ruz, project manager at Brent CAB, said: “There is no support for people, they have to do it on their own and these are people are facing complex legal issues. It will have to lead to people representing themselves and the whole process leaves them at a disadvantage. Basically, you are on your own.”
The law centre is appealing to local firms to help out and is looking for sources of funding. It is also taking part in the London Legal Support Trust walk on Monday next week.