National Lottery provides £30m “essential funding” for advice agencies

Carter: Unprecedented demand

The National Lottery is to give £30m over five years to advice agencies as they face “unprecedented demand” for social welfare law services as a result of the cost-of-living crisis.

Clare Carter, chief executive of the Access to Justice Foundation (AJF), said the money would provide “essential funding” over a period of five years for around 75 legal advice providers.

“We are seeing increases in demand like we’ve never seen before – sometimes by 50%. It is really is unprecedented. Demand is massively outstripping supply.”

Ms Carter said that everyone was under “more pressure, more stress”, including agency staff who were themselves feeling the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

She said the AJF had been working with the National Lottery for the last three years, following the lottery’s decision to give £5m to the Community Justice Fund (CJF) in July 2020.

The CJF, which includes the AJF, the Legal Education Foundation and four other social welfare funders, was set up in May 2020 to help advice agencies survive the pandemic. By April this year, it had handed out over £15m to 179 specialist advice organisations.

Ms Carter said the AJF, which will deliver the lottery funding on behalf of the CJF via its Improving Lives Through Advice programme, had emphasised the need for longer-term, flexible funding in its application to the lottery.

She said the application process for grants from the programme would begin on 7 August and run until mid-September. Around 75 organisations could receive grants in the range of £50,000 to £100,000, every year for five years.

Ms Carter said the lottery money was “essential funding” to sustain advice agencies, rather than set up new ones, though there may be “some areas of advice which could expand”.

She said community organisations which delivered social welfare advice could also apply for grants.

By funding community organisations, the programme could use their insights “to improve access to advice that has the potential to transform the lives of people experiencing poverty, disadvantage, and discrimination”.

There would be a mixture of long-term core funding and a ‘funder plus’ programme to help agencies “meet increased demand and the complexity of legal need and work towards long-term sustainability”.

The grants themselves are expected to total £27.4m, with £2.6m used to cover the programme and administrative costs.

Research by the CJF estimated earlier this year that the not-for-profit legal advice sector was heading for a £32m deficit in the current financial year.

The CJF said all of the charities featured in the research reported “significant problems” in recruiting and retaining staff. “The lack of funding means that advice charities just can’t build reserves and therefore resilience.

“Many lack the core unrestricted funding that they need to pay management costs and to invest in operating costs. Most are struggling to help their staff with cost-of-living pressures.”

Ms Carter added: “We have to be optimistic. There is a lot more work to do, but there are lots of potential opportunities out there.”

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