Charity issues

Promoting social justice : Derby Law Centre providing free legal advice on Housing and Debt

In 2018, the Derby Law Centre’s team of solicitors, ensured that 10 people per week, every week,  avoided homelessness as a result of legal proceedings; this was a 93% success rate. And it’s all free of charge, and based in the centre of Derby. But that’s not all that they do…

How did it start?

The much publicised Council grant cuts to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) a few years ago resulted in a re-shaping of how this style of service would be provided in the City. The original CAB organisation was formally called the Citizen’s Advice and Law Centre (CALC). As reported in an earlier article, the Citizen’s Advice aspect of the work was merged into the South Derbyshire CAB to form the Citizens Advice South Derbyshire and City, based at Sinfin Library.

Derby’s re-established Citizens Advice Bureau – helping thousands of people across the City

The Law Centre element of the old CALC disappeared from the City for a few years.

Direct Help and Advice (DHA), have been operating for many years in the City, and County, providing legal advice, and help, on homelessness and debt issues. It was considered a natural evolution to formalise their role into a “Law Centre” and become affiliated to the Law Centres Network.  This required them to demonstrate that they were operating to strict quality criteria including employing qualified solicitors – this was in line with their previous practice.

What services does the Derby Law Centre provide?

For anyone who finds themselves in the Combined Court in Derby on a housing matter, including eviction orders, then a solicitor from the Derby Law Centre will be available, free of charge, to represent them.  This requires quick and agile thinking from the solicitor as they only have a few minutes to understand the issues from the client, and decide on the best way forward;  they then have to agree their conclusion with the other party, and the judge. It is here that the impressive 93% success rate is achieved with 570 in 2018 avoiding likely eviction. The Court Duty work is every Tuesday and Thursday.

For people who have housing related legal issues, but are not at the court stage, then they can drop into the Derby Law Centre on Phoenix Street ( a few minutes walk from the Council House) and be seen by a solicitor, or, arrange an appointment. The issues can be wide and varied – from interpreting letters, and agreements, repair needs, rent arrears, unlawful evictions, to challenging the Council on its obligations. Typically, most case work will be associated with rented property.

The Law Centre can also provide housing related debt advice which can complement, and help with problems associated with rent, or mortgage arrears and provide an acceptable outcome to the landlord or bank. For those who need more on-going support, the training branch of DHA has a project called “Money Sorted” which is best summarised as longer term mentoring help on personal finances.

In 2018, around 2600 people received face to face help on the range of housing and debt issues.

The Law Centre is also part of a national network of organisations that support a Telephone helpline and nearly 8000 people benefitted from this in 2018.

What’s the difference to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau?

The main difference is that the Derby Law Centre employs qualified solictors, whereas CAB have well-trained, ‘generalists’. The CAB cover a much greater scope than the Law Centre which focusses on Housing and Debt only. There will be some cross over as the CAB also provide debt advice. However, this does not represent a problem as the two organisations work closely together and they do cross refer.

The Law Centre is also the local lead on “Help through Crisis” – Big Lottery funded programme to “help people who are experiencing or at risk of hardship crisis to overcome the difficulties they are facing to plan for their futures.”

Comment

When the Council cut the grant to the local CAB/CALC a few years ago it was subject to considerable criticism, and rightly so. There was no follow-up plan to manage the remaining “hole”.

Paul Naylor , the CEO of DHA, took up a temporary role within CAB/CALC shortly after the grant cut to manage the transition to a more sustainable position. His efforts, together with those of the organisations’ trustees , management teams and staff have ensured a long term quality advice provision in the City. A service which is providing help and support to thousands of people who are perilously close to poverty, bankruptcy and homelessness.

And all the advice is free.

There is never enough capacity and further “headwinds” will come from the implementation of Universal Credit, rising interest rates, and cuts to Council/Government services.

But that is simply seen as a challenge, rather than to bemoan a problem. As Paul Naylor (CEO, DHA) said :

” If a client walks through our door, I want to help them. We don’t want to turn anyone away”

 

 

Categories: Charity issues

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