Brent Council cuts could see community law centre close its doors
Solicitors call on public to help fight closure of centre used by thousands of vulnerable people
A COMMUNITY law centre that helps thousands of vulnerable people through legal nightmares has described council plans to cut its funding as madness.
Jamie Ritchie, a solicitor at Brent Community Law Centre, said Brent Council has reneged on its promise to maintain its �200,000 a year funding until September and to consult on any changes.
The council has listed the Centre, in High Road, Willesden, for ‘decommissioning’ in its budget report as it seeks to cut expenditure by �40 million over the coming year.
But Mr Ritchie said: “Brent is wrong to pick on the Law Centre. It’s part of the glue that holds the borough together. For every pound spent on the Law Centre many more are saved in public spending. We hope that local people will persuade the council to stop this madness.”
The centre advises more than 100 people a week on debt, housing and employment problems and expects the need to increase as unemployment rises and benefit criteria are tightened.
Peter Dobbie went to BCLC in September 2009 after the Department of Work and Pensions told his wife she was fit for work and kicked her off benefits – she was suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease.
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The DWP acknowledged its mistake in September 2010.
Mr Dobbie said: “The BCLC was absolutely brilliant. They backed me all the way and I have nothing but the highest regard for them.
“Without them I might have given up hope. It’s ludicrous if the council cuts its funding. They are invaluable to the community.”
Mr Ritchie blamed the Government for the needless cuts that he said will devastate Brent, add inequality and increase the need for lawyers’ services.
“The council said it would consult on advice services nearly two years ago. But nothing has happened. We intended to replace at least some of the Council funding by October,” he said.
“But, if the council stops all funding from April, our phone won’t be answered and our doors will be closed.”
The Law Centre’s other main source of funding, Legal Aid which is paid on a per case basis, is expected to be cut by central government later in the year.
Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said: “At more than �2 billion a year, we pay far more per head than most other countries for legal aid.
“Our proposals aim to radically reform the system and encourage people to take advantage of the most appropriate sources of help, advice or routes to resolution - which will not always involve the expense of lawyers or courts.”
Brent Council failed to return calls about its plans to close the centre.