Some 45 years after the first law centre was set up, the movement was finding itself in ‘a mid-life crisis’ – ‘not so much a crisis of vision, but a crisis of funding’, according to the Law Centres Network latest annual review. You can download the report – Picking up the pieces – here.
On average, law centres lost 40% of their income under the Coalition government, including ‘a cut of over 60% to legal aid revenue’ as a result of the April 2013 LASPO reforms. ‘Consequently, 11 Law Centres have now closed and most have lost some staff and reduced services in order to do the best they can with funds available,’ the review said.
‘It is no secret that the last couple of years have been particularly tough for law centres. Faced with the double whammy of massive cuts to civil legal aid from April 2013, coupled with dramatically reduced local authority funding, 11 centres were forced to close and many others have had to reduce the services they offered. So, after 45 years law centres have found themselves having something of a mid-life crisis – not so much a crisis of vision, but a crisis of funding, which has forced us to refocus.’
Law Centres Network
Law Centres were ‘certainly knocked but have bounced back’, said Cheryl Weston, director of Nottingham Law Centre and chair of the Law Centres Network. As a result of the cuts and increasing demand for help, Law Centres have had to explore ‘new and more resilient business and service delivery models’.
One such approach was a multi-disciplinary response such as Coventry Law Centre’s ‘troubled families’ initiative. The centre has a specialist advice worker in the council’s troubled families team who picks up complex matters that the centre then assists with. Other law centres have set up similar tie-ins with non-legal services including local clinical commissioning groups, Police and Crime Commissioners, food banks and domestic violence projects.
Other law centres have taken to the ‘controversial move’ of charging fees from those who can afford to pay – for example, Rochdale Legal Enterprise, a not-for-profit solicitors practice that works closely with Rochdale Law Centre to provide low cost legal services to individuals on low and middle incomes across Greater Manchester. ‘After staff costs and running costs, any excess income generated from charges to clients is given to Rochdale Law Centre toward its free charitable work,’ the review explained. The report also flagged up Green Roots, the new social enterprise owned by Islington Law Centre which offers ‘high quality legal services at as low a price as possible to meet the legal needs of people who would otherwise go without a lawyer’.
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