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Free law centre forced to turn away clients in funding crisis

PUBLISHED: 13:55 22 August 2012

Staff and volunteers at Camden Community Law Centre NW5, front case worker Mahmud Quayum.

Staff and volunteers at Camden Community Law Centre NW5, front case worker Mahmud Quayum.

Archant

Hundreds of Camden residents and workers are losing out on vital legal advice after a law centre was forced to slash its hours due to funding cuts.

The Camden Community Law Centre, Prince of Wales Road, Kentish Town, has provided free legal advice for the last 38 years.

The registered charity offers a vital lifeline and gives advice on employment, debt and small claims, housing, immigration and welfare rights.

Rights

The centre is funded primarily by Camden Council and the Legal Services Commission (LSC). It lost out on a big pot of funding from the council to The Mary Ward Legal Centre in Bloomsbury in April.

The move prompted three full-time staff members to leave. Since then, it has slashed its drop-in sessions by half, from 18 to nine hours. It has also been forced to cut its free telephone advice service from 36 to 18 hours.

Mahmud Quayum, immigration caseworker, said: “We can’t see everybody. We have to turn 40 to 50 per cent of people away as we don’t have the capacity to give them advice. Legal fees are expensive, most people on low and middle income can’t afford legal services.

“Access to justice is an important part of our work. It provides a level playing field. What’s the point of rights if you don’t have the means to enforce it?

“We hope the council will continue to support us.”

The law centre, is the only place in the borough which provides free legal advice except for The Mary Ward Legal Centre.

One client the centre has helped is 42-year-old Jessica Adam, from Holborn, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

The former Canadian citizen moved to the UK in 2004 after she married a German working in London and the couple had a child together in 2005. After becoming a victim of domestic violence, she left her husband in 2009.

“I was going to leave the country, but he had taken a petition to the High Court preventing me from leaving with our child,” she said.

Jessica applied for permanent residency in October, but was refused. The law centre helped with her successfully appeal.

“I’m indebted to them,” she said. “I couldn’t have done without their help.”

The law centre also helped Maohammed Abdul Malique – whose two twin daughters suffer from the rare blood disorder Thalassemia – win an appeal to have their disability living allowance (DLA) reinstated.

The 16-year-old requires a blood transfusion once every three weeks and injections five days a week.

The law centre helped Mr Malique take his case to court and in an unprecedented victory, the girls were awarded a lower rate of DLA by the Upper Tribunal, which sits just below the Court of Appeal.

The 49-year-old of Burton Place, Bloomsbury, said: “This makes a huge difference to my family.”

A spokesman for Camden Council said: “We are working closely with the Camden Community Law Centre on developing new funding sources and have ensured the services they provide people with, remain on offer from partner organisations.”

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