Hackney Community Law Centre faces closure after the council this week voted through a 45% cut to its funding. According to the Hackney Citizen, the law centre saw a cut of £60,000 to its debt advice service last year, and has already seen a drop in its council funding of 56% since October 2017.
‘We know that austerity from central government has impacted all our services, but this is a deliberate and unconsulted sudden change of policy of redistribution of the grants pot,’ Cllr Deniz Oguzkanlisaidon said on behalf of HCLC’s board of trustees. ‘It has also left Hackney Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) reeling from a major cut, whilst other untried and possibly unqualified groups have been given significant sums.’
Sean Canning, manager of HCLC, said that they were ‘deeply shocked and puzzled’. ‘Law centres, and advice agencies like ours, are very dependent on funding from the local council, and in the past Hackney Council has been very supportive in that regard for which we have been very grateful,’ he added.
Writing for the Guardian this week, I notedthe fragile advice sector has been hit by a doubly whammy of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act and local authority cuts. ‘Before 2013, legal aid would typically account for 40% of a law centre’s income and 40% from local authorities. Since LASPO , the income of law centres has halved and 11 have been forced to close, leaving none in the whole of Wales and only 43 in England offering specialist advice for those who cannot afford to pay a lawyer.’
Tim Shields, the council’s chief executive, said that that they were moving towards a new model of an ‘integrated debt and advice service which helps people resolve their problems at the earliest stage and find ways to help people address wider issues to help them live a happier more fulfilled life’.