The Community Justice Fund (CJF) – which only went live six weeks ago – has already awarded nearly £2m in grants to the legal advice sector to help it cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.
It aims to inject immediate money into specialist advice agencies, plus provide longer-term support as a “catalyst for wider renewal”.
Grants of between £10,000 and £75,000 – totalling £1.9m – have been awarded to 35 charities supporting disadvantaged and vulnerable people across the UK, in areas such as disability, employment, housing, immigration women’s rights, benefits, debt and welfare.
When we last reported on the CJF at the start of June, it had made 10 grants worth £600,000.
Charities that have since been awarded grants include Advice on Individual Rights in Europe Ltd (the AIRE Centre), Independent Provider of Special Education Advice, Youth Legal and Resource Centre, Ethnic Minorities Law Centre, and Citizen’s Advice Gateshead.
As examples, the foundation said the £25,000 for Youth Legal and Resource Centre would “replace the loss of legal aid profit costs income from the drop in legal help aid cases and keep them viable through the downturn in work”.
The £40,000 for the Ethnic Minorities Law Centre will help it to upgrade its website to a fully interactive service website to assist with the large amount of enquiries it receives, “as well as purchase IT equipment and an upgraded cloud phone system to allow a more accessible legal services to clients and gain back some of the lost income through fees and legal aid”.
Citizen’s Advice Gateshead will use its £65,000 grant to increase staff numbers ahead of an expected surge in demand in areas such as housing and welfare, as well as IT equipment for remote working.
Ruth Daniel, chief executive of the Access to Justice Foundation, said: “We have tried to make the application process as straightforward and streamlined as possible to provide the vital financial support that the not-for-profit legal advice sector needs as quickly as possible.
“We are working hard to issue multiple grants every week and strongly encourage applications from specialist legal advice charities across the UK who need urgent and flexible financial assistance to stay open and sustainable at this time of crisis.”
The CJF is funded by £2.4m from the Ministry of Justice and £1.6m from the Access to Justice Foundation – which is hosting the fund – Therium Access, the 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.
The funding pot has reached £7m when the £3m of government money that went to the Law Centres Network is included.
The £1.6m includes money raised by the Emergency Advice Appeal, a joint initiative by the Access to Justice Foundation and the London Legal Support Trust, to help the legal advice sector during the pandemic. It raised £242,665, with the foundation providing a further £200,000 in matched funding.
The appeal was backed by individual supporters and legal organisations coming together to fundraise, through virtual walks, runs and quizzes.
“Generous donations” were given by the Law Society, Linklaters, Allen & Overy, Leigh Day, Hogan Lovells, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Brabners, Womble Bond Dickson and Mills & Reeve.