Cash crisis puts free Harrow Road advice service at risk

A free advice centre which helps Westminster’s poorest residents is facing closure because of a serious cash crisis.

Three years ago, the Wood&Vale reported the Paddington Law Centre, on Harrow Road, was having to cut salaries with staff taking voluntary redundancies after funding was taken away.

The centre managed to raise �30,000 to stay afloat and continue its work, albeit with fewer staff.

But another funding loss which has seen the centre miss out on �45,000 has again put the service at real risk of closure.

Supervising solicitor Anne McNicholas said: “We have been able to survive by cutting our costs but the funding climate has become worse.

“As in 2007, our application for National Lottery funding has been rejected but this time we are worse off because we also face the end of funding from London councils.

“We are in real danger of closing. In 2007 we could manage to limp on but even with fewer staff we wouldn’t be able to carry on now.

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“We urgently need some emergency funding to see us to the end of the year.”

The law centre opened in 1972 and helps more than 750 clients every year.

It provides people with free legal advice and representation in housing, employment and benefits.

“Our immediate catchment area is the Harrow Road, Queen’s Park and Westbourne wards which are some of the most deprived in Westminster,” said Ms McNicholas.

“There are a lot of recent changes to benefit rules particularly for people with health problems and we are concerned that if we close, there won’t be anyone to represent them at appeals.”

Opposition councillors in Westminster have written to the council chief executive asking him to give a �50,000 grant to the centre from its Paddington social and community fund which is intended to benefit community groups.

Westminster North MP Karen Buck said: “Paddington Law Centre has been offering support and representation to thousands of vulnerable people in crisis, experiencing homelessness, debt, unfair dismissal and government errors in the benefits system.

“This is an indispensable service offered by skilled, dedicated staff and we should be doing everything in our power to support it through these difficult times.”

Westminster Council’s deputy leader, Councillor Robert Davis, said there are a “number of deserving projects” that could benefit from the fund with the next round of allocations currently being decided.