£5m fund to support social welfare advice goes live

Bishop: Immediate impact

A fund worth more than £5m to sustain UK social justice advisers through the Covid-19 pandemic has gone live today.

The Community Justice Fund aims to inject immediate money into specialist legal advice agencies, plus provide longer-term support as a “catalyst for wider renewal”.

It is administering the money provided by the government from a £5.4m injection into the not-for-profit sector as well as funding made available by six grant-giving foundations: the Access to Justice Foundation, Therium Access, Legal Education Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, AB Charitable Trust and Indigo Trust.

Other funders are the Law Society, Linklaters, Allen & Overy and the London Legal Support Trust.

From the government pot, £3m went to the Law Centres Network and £2.4m to the CJF, while the Access to Justice Foundation, which is hosting the CJF, has raised a further £1.6m.

The Law Centres Network is aligning its fund with the CJF to allow for a single point of application.

Grants from the new fund are expected to range from £25,000 to £100,000 and will be made to organisations specialising in key areas of social welfare law. Applications will be shared between the CJF and network to maximise the chances of funding.

Funds will be distributed quickly, and additional grant funders are expected to join the initiative in coming weeks and months, as the full impact of the pandemic becomes clearer.

Law centres and legal advice agencies can apply via a streamlined application process, with the first grants expected to be paid within two weeks.

Grant applications can be backdated to 1 April, to cover the urgent, unplanned spending organisations had to make in their initial response to the virus outbreak.

Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Network, said: “We welcome the speed with which funders have come together and understood the desperate situation we are in. Law centres and other legal charities live on a knife edge and it takes very little to knock them over.

“The funders have spoken to us to understand what’s needed and when. They are trusting the organisations to understand their own needs and how best this funding can help. That is very welcome.

“The simplified application process means this funding has the potential to reach organisations who really need it, but aren’t skilled at writing funding bids. That will create quite a difference in those who get funding. It will have an immediate impact.”

Early research by the Law Centres Network showed its members were facing a surge in demand for legal advice, and a change in the kind of inquiries they are getting.

One law centre reported receiving many calls from house sharers, whose landlords were insisting that, where one tenant could not meet their rent, the others were liable to pay it.

They are also seeing a large number of inquiries from employees, who have been sent home with no pay, or dismissed without explanation or notice.

In the research, other advice agencies reported struggling to adapt the way their services are provided because of outdated or limited IT:

Meanwhile, the Open University’s open justice team has collaborated with the charity Support Through Court to launch a free online resource to train its volunteers and those at domestic abuse charities – as well as anyone else interested – to work with both survivors and alleged perpetrators of domestic abuse.

According to Refuge, the number of calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline rose 25% during the first two weeks of lockdown.

Following media coverage, visits to the Refuge website increased by 700% overnight and helpline calls increased by 120%.

There are nine modules in total, three of which are specifically about domestic abuse, with the rest of elements such as client interviews and writing court statements.

Participants will receive a digital badge for their LinkedIn profile as well as a statement of participation.

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