Emergency Advice Appeal launched to raise crucial funds for social welfare law charities
LEGAL ADVICE SECTOR IS CLOSE TO BREAKING POINT WARN FUNDERS
The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing an already fragile free legal advice sector to breaking point, grant making charities supporting access to justice have warned.
Launching an Emergency Appeal today (Tuesday 7th April 2020) to kick-start a new National Advice Fund, the Access to Justice Foundation and the London Legal Support Trust have said that unless urgent action is taken, half of the front-line legal advice centres will permanently close and those that remain will be forced to reduce staff and services.
These services advise, support and represent marginalised groups, ensuring any legal issues they face are solved quickly. The need for help with employment, debt and benefits is rising dramatically.
It is estimated that Law Centres alone save the government around £48m a year, helping people to avoid debt, keep their homes and their source of income. Losing these and other vital advice services could place a further burden on the public purse.
Services which have been identified as at risk include Law Centres, specialist independent agencies and some local Citizens Advice services. Many of these organisations need funding to cover the basics to keep functioning and adapt to home working measures. Without a rapid cash injection, these services will cease to exist.
The Access to Justice Foundation is calling on the wider social justice community to contribute to the Emergency Appeal and help establish a National Advice Fund so these essential services are able to remain open and protect those people who are reliant upon them.
Ruth Daniel, CEO at the Access to Justice Foundation, says:
“The COVID-19 epidemic has put further stress on what is already a fragile sector. Following years of cuts, the sector is now close to breaking point. Many agencies will be forced to close over the next two to twelve months unless urgent action is taken by the wider social justice community.
“The National Advice Fund will protect the thousands of vulnerable people who rely on free legal advice services. Most of these people are already extremely vulnerable and are unemployed or on low pay, have disabilities or health conditions or are from excluded or impoverished communities. It is paramount that they have the legal support they need at this time of crisis.”
Nezahat Cihan, CEO of the London Legal Support Trust, says:
“In London alone we are already seeing a rapid increase in unemployment and the associated problems of debt and mishandled benefits claims. As ever, this will be followed by homelessness and mental health problems. London legal advice agencies are needed now more than ever, but their resources are already stretched to the limit.”
The Emergency Advice Appeal was set up and is administered by The Access to Justice Foundation and London Legal Support Trust. The first £200,000 of donations will be matched.
Anyone wanting to make a donation should visit https://atjf.org.uk/emergencyappeal