Details of how grant funding targeted at the not-for-profit (NfP) specialist advice sector has been spent were released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) last week (‘Justice minister remote visit to Wales
’, MoJ press release, 11 November 2020). The grants are intended to assist the sector in coping with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In October 2020, justice minister Alex Chalk MP undertook remote visits to Shelter Cymru and the South Wales Law Centre to be briefed on how the grants were being used to support the organisations. The cash awarded to them was part of a total pot of £5.4m from the MoJ, £3m of which was allocated to Law Centres, with the remainder going to other specialist legal advice services.
The cash for Law Centres has been distributed as part of a joint initiative between the Law Centres Network (the national organisation representing Law Centres) and the Access to Justice Foundation (ATJF). Grants were distributed to 28 Law Centres.
Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Network, said that the cash from the MoJ has ‘been vital to Law Centres’ as it has ensured they are able ‘to continue to provide legal assistance to the increasing numbers of local people suddenly finding themselves in situations they would never have imagined last year’. She believes the country ‘faces challenging times ahead, and we hope to continue this partnership with government, fighting the combined effects of coronavirus and inequality, so people and communities are supported on their path to recovery’.
Central England Law Centre (CELC), which has offices in Birmingham and Coventry, received a grant of £219,649. Director Sue Bent told Legal Action that around £79,000 of this will help CELC survive the loss of legal aid income. Much of the rest of it has been allocated to fund public legal education work, including a helpline and information materials on COVID-19 and legal rights.
According to Bent, ‘the moratorium on housing possession cases led to a large drop in legal aid cases for the Law Centre’, but in most other areas of law the numbers did not fall as ‘we were able to keep reaching out to people’. CELC distributed leaflets in shielding food deliveries and food bank parcels as part of this effort to maintain contact with potential clients.
ATJF has administered the grants to the Law Centres as part of the Community Justice Fund
. The fund is made up of the £5.4m from the MoJ plus money from other grant-giving charities, including a £5m contribution from the National Lottery Community Fund. Clare Carter, ATJF deputy chief executive, said that, so far, it has allocated a total of £11.6m in grants from the fund to 148 NfP advice organisations. The grants, said Carter, have helped the advice sector adapt to the shift to online services and scale up their services to meet increased demand as the economic impact of the pandemic starts to be felt.