New contracts and funding changes force legal aid groups to close
Law Centres battle for life
Law Centres providing specialist housing advice are being wiped out at an alarming rate, figures obtained by Inside Housing have revealed.
Changes in funding for the not-for-profit centres saw a switch from hourly fees to a fixed fee in October last year.
By June 2008, just nine months after the Legal Services Commission introduced the new contracts, three centres had closed and three were winding up.
Another dozen had serious financial problems and were threatened with closure, according to figures from the Law Centres Federation, which represents 57 Law Centres.
Glenda Terry, who managed Leicester Law Centre before it closed, said the centre had survived for 30 years through the ‘whims of funders’ but ‘the LSC’s new procurement strategy struck the fatal blow’.
Steve Haynes, director of the Legal Action Group charity, said: ‘The LSC would argue – and I disagree with this – that they [Law Centres] would be replaced by private sector solicitors or not-for-profit organisations.’
He added that the problem with this was that other legal advisors would be unable to provide the same level of advice as Law Centres.
‘Law Centres tried to do a whole case within the parameters of what the LSC paid them, but they’re having problems doing that now. That’s why they’re experiencing difficulties.’
LCF director Julie Bishop said that the creation in some regions of Community Legal Advice Centres – set up by the LSC to provide a broad range of legal advice – would be the final nail in the coffin for some centres.
A spokesperson from the LCF explained: ‘Where the CLACs have been put in the same areas as the law centres, both have been made to bid to provide services. This has happened in Leicester.’
Inside Housing revealed last month that influential Labour Party members are so concerned about the impact of the changes that they are calling for an independent review of the legal aid system (22 August).