178 not-for-profit specialist legal advice services across the UK have been awarded grants in the first round of funding

The Community Justice Fund, an initiative set up to support not-for-profit legal advice organisations as they cope with the impacts of COVID-19, has awarded £11,536,308 in its first round of funding to 178 specialist legal advice organisations across the UK that offer essential support to people and communities affected by the crisis.

The Community Justice Fund is a joint initiative between Advice UK, Law Centres Network and Citizens Advice, front line specialist legal advice organisations and a group of independent funders – the AB Charitable Trust, Access to Justice Foundation, Indigo Trust, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, The Legal Education Foundation and Therium Access. Additional support has come from a range of other sources, including £5.4m from the Ministry of Justice and £5m from The National Lottery Community Fund.

The Fund was established to provide urgent and flexible support to specialist social welfare legal advice agencies to ensure they could adapt and continue to provide vital services to people affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Grants were awarded to organisations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland between May and September, and included Law Centres, local Citizens Advice, independent advice agencies and national charities. Funding was awarded to services providing specialist legal advice in social welfare areas such as employment, housing, debt, welfare, immigration, women’s rights, discrimination and disability.

The first round of funding comes at a critical time for advice agencies across the UK as they face immense financial difficulties, while experiencing a dramatic surge in demand for their services, with many reporting an increase in requests for legal assistance in areas such as employment, housing and homelessness, discrimination, debt and welfare rights.

Law Centres describe being inundated with requests for legal advice for employment and discrimination cases, particularly from employees in low paid jobs who are ineligible for legal aid and whose sectors do not have trade union recognition. Several agencies report increased levels of advice enquiries and casework around debt and benefits, particularly universal credit as thousands have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Many housing specialists faced a surge in demand after the stay on evictions was lifted in September, as well as enquiries from people facing the threat of unlawful evictions.

As the pandemic continues into 2021, advice agencies are facing a financial cliff edge as government emergency support winds down. They are forced to prepare for increasing demand for urgent legal advice while facing projected losses of income, which is particularly difficult for those doing legal aid work and facing additional barriers to service delivery.

Ruth Daniel, CEO of the Access to Justice Foundation, said:

“The Community Justice Fund has provided vital support to the social justice sector in its efforts to support people coping with the immediate effects of the pandemic and we would like to say a huge thank you to all of our funders and supporters who have made this possible. Our grantees have done a fantastic job at quickly adapting their services under immense financial pressure and increasingly difficult circumstances to ensure that they are still there for the vulnerable people who rely on them.

“The pandemic has shone a spotlight both on the importance of the sector and its fragility, and we are aware that this is only the beginning of support required for the challenging times ahead. We are currently forward-planning and actively fundraising for the second round of Community Justice Fund grants. We’re very interested in hearing from outside parties looking to support our longer-term ambition to strengthen the sector and ensure it remains sustainable for those who need it both during the crisis and in the future.”

Rosario Guimba-Stewart, Chief Executive Officer of Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network, said:

“The funding was a lifeline to our clients who are mainly vulnerable and destitute. Those who are eligible to work but have no recourse to public funds have lost their jobs and their support systems, as the families and friends supporting them have also become unemployed.”

David Laurence, Chief Executive of Disability Law Centre, said:

“At a time when organisations across the advice sector were facing financial pressure, the grant from the Community Justice Fund provided stability and enabled us to continue to provide full support to the disabled people we represent.  The additional grant we received will enable us to go the extra mile by recruiting a paralegal to enable our expert solicitors to focus more time on high-value casework and to cope with increased demand.”

The Community Justice Fund was driven and supported financially by the following partners: AB Charitable Trust, Access to Justice Foundation including the Emergency Advice Appeal, Indigo Trust, The Legal Education Foundation and Therium Access. Further contributions were received from Paul Hamlyn Foundation, The Law Society, Freshfields, Allen and Overy, The Ministry of Justice, and £5m from The National Lottery Community Fund, thanks to National Lottery players.

For further information on the Community Justice Fund, visit www.communityjusticefund.org.uk