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Birmingham Law Centre faces closure as LASPO approaches

Centre needs to raise 100,000 by April to keep doors open, chief executive says

7 January 2013

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Birmingham Law Centre may be forced to close if it cannot secure at least £100,000 in funding over the next three months, its chief executive has warned.

Pete Lowen said the law centre did not receive any funding from its local authority, and faced losing half its legal aid work as a result of LASPO.

The centre, which employs four solicitors, eight caseworkers and eight support staff, is currently tendering for legal aid contracts in housing and immigration.

Lowen said LASPO was likely to reduce the number of its matter starts by half, but could cut them by as much as 75 per cent.

He said the centre received 40 to 50 per cent of its funding from legal aid. Law centre workers and their patron, Labour peer Lord Philip Hunt, are lobbying a Birmingham council meeting tomorrow night to try and obtain funding.

“All law centres are facing challenges as a result of LASPO,” Lowen said. “We are fairly unique as we get no funding from the council and this makes it very difficult for us to survive.

“Most other centres can use their core funding to smooth over issues with legal aid funding. Coventry council gives its law centre nearly half a million pounds a year.”

Lowen said the situation was made worse by the time taken by the SRA to decide on a waiver application which would allow it to introduce charging.

“We don’t like the concept of charging, but there are certain things we can morally charge for, such as compromise agreements in employment cases,” Lowen said.

Apart from legal aid, Birmingham Law Centre relies on funding from other sources, such as the Severn Trent Trust Fund, which pays for debt advice for victims of domestic violence, and the results of its own fundraising iniatives.

“It is almost impossible to contemplate the demise of an organisation that is so important to so many people in their fight to lift themselves out of poverty, debt and homelessness,” Lord Hunt said.

“We are working hard to try and secure sustainable funding, but the cuts to legal support for some of our most vulnerable clients are proving exceptionally challenging.”

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Legal Aid