More law centre closures as LASPO cuts bite

North Kensington law centreThree more law centres are on the brink of closing their doors to clients for good as a result of the swingeing cuts to civil legal aid introduced last year.

According to Law Centres Network, a combination of the LASPO cuts – which removed legal aid for most social welfare law, including housing, immigration, welfare benefits, and employment – and a reduction in funding from local authorities and London councils has meant that Cross Street, Barnet and Whythenshawe law centres are heading towards managed closure at the end of the financial year.

Cross Street Law Centre in Kent – formerly known as Thamesmead Community Law Centre – was set up by Plumstead Law Centre as an outreach session for Thamesmead in 1999. It changed its name in 2008, broadening its area of benefit to South East England. Cross Street Law Centre is currently managing closure unless a last minute solution to its lack of funding can be found.

Barnet Law Service in north London was also set up in 1999 to assist the local community with housing, welfare benefits, debt and immigration problems. Barnet Law Service has told Law Centres Network that they will close unless another funder can be found.  They are currently in talks with the council in an attempt to save the law centre.

Wythenshawe Law Centre in Manchester has been running for 29 years in Wythenshawe, which is one of the largest council estates in the country.  Wythenshawe Law Centre is in the process of closing because it hasn’t been able to absorb the LASPO cuts, Law Centres Network has confirmed.

The three law centres follow in the footsteps of Birmingham Law Centre, Harehills and Chapeltown Law Centre, and Streetwise Community Law Centre – all of which closed their doors last year in the wake of the LASPO cuts.

Julie Bishop, director of Law Centres Network, said: ‘The majority of law centres have so far managed to survive the cuts to their legal aid income, through restructuring and robust fundraising.  Even so, for many law centres, legal aid and other cuts have led to a reduction in the level of service they can provide to their local communities as staff have had to be laid off.’

Bishop added that, whilst some law centres – such as Nottingham, Cumbria and Coventry  – are doing well, and even expanding, ‘a small number of law centres – for which legal aid was their major source of funding – and in spite of extensive preparation for the cuts, appear unlikely to be able to secure enough other funding to remain open and are heading towards a managed closure at the end of the financial year or have recently had to close.’

The director of Law Centres Network concluded: ‘Reductions in law centre services, and closures in particular, will leave many very vulnerable people without access to justice.’


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