A ROW has broken out over the loss of a charity which has provided free legal advice to thousands of people during the last 30 years.
Hounslow Law Centre (HLC), which handles cases on everything from housing to immigration, closed last month after Hounslow Council withdrew its annual grant.
From April 1, a similar service will be provided by Brentford-based charity Law For All, which has been awarded a yearly grant of £72,100 – the same amount HLC used to receive.
Hounslow Council withdrew funding from HLC due to concerns over 'governance and financial reporting'. It insists Law For All, which used to run a debt advice surgery at HLC's offices in Lampton Road, Hounslow, will continue to provide 'good quality' legal advice to the community.
However, bosses at the law centre claim the decision is a waste of three decades of experience and will make it harder for people in the west of the borough to access support.
The six-strong staff at HLC, which officially closed on February 19, received more than 5,000 enquiries last year and took on 1,239 cases.
Chairman Ilyas Khwaja said: "We've represented vulnerable and impoverished people from across Hounslow for 30 years and we can't understand why the council has ended our funding now. We invited councillors to come and talk to us but they always refused. It's not going to be easy for people to go all the way from Feltham to Brentford. We've had people crying on our doorstep."
Mr Khwaja dismissed claims the charity was poorly run, saying although it had difficulties finding a supervising solicitor two years ago and ended 2008 with a £33,000 deficit those problems were now sorted.
The new Law For All centre, based in Brentford High Street, will be open five days a week, from 9.30am to 5.30pm. Legal advisers will provide guidance on a range of issues, including debt, employment and housing.
Council leader Peter Thompson said: "A good quality community legal advice service gives residents free access to independent information on welfare and other related legal issues when they need it most.
"This is an important community support service and, once Hounslow Law Centre stopped operating, we felt it important to quickly identify an alternative provider. I am delighted that we have been able to find a local organisation to offer this service and meet the needs of the borough’s residents."
For more about Law For All, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8600 3100.