Justice comes first for housing and immigration practitioners
Government ministers must understand the challenges facing social welfare lawyers, Quazim Khan tells Matthew Rogers
‘At times, you wish to take every case on but then realise that you would not be able to provide the support required to resolve the problem,’ says Quazim Khan, a Justice First fellow at legal advice centre Greenwich Housing Rights. ‘I find it very difficult to tell somebody that you do not have capacity to take a case on when you know what impact you could have on their life. In Greenwich, we are fortunate that there are lawyers who have legal aid contracts that can take cases on.’
Khan is part of the second year cohort of trainees to take part in the Legal Education Foundation’s Justice First Fellowship scheme, which aims to breed the next generation of social welfare lawyers by placing aspiring lawyers at host organisations.
His motivations were first born out of a three-year stint working as a housing adviser prior to undertaking his legal practice course. ‘I was shocked at the homelessness in London and the lack of support provided by the local authorities,’ he says. ‘I became passionate about this area of law and educating people on their rights and how to help others.’
The best aspect of working at GHR is seeing the reaction from families when he resolves their problems, Khan says. Such a positive outcome isn’t always possible, however, as sometimes he must explain to vulnerable people that they could soon be made homeless.
‘I have a client who is being evicted with her partner and three children. One of her children has mental health problems and struggles with change. The landlord served the correct notice and could take steps to end the tenancy even though the client was a perfect tenant. I found this particularly difficult as the children were settled in the area and the family had a great relationship with the local school. Despite this there were no guarantees the family would even stay in the borough, never mind the same area.’
Since being placed at GHR, Khan has noticed a rise in tenants facing eviction from private rented accommodation. He says the most common problem facing clients is a lack of affordable housing to meet the increased demand. ‘I receive countless enquiries every week from people struggling in unsuitable accommodation seeking alternative housing. The supply of affordable housing is a problem that must be addressed.’
Each fellow must engage in an access to justice project that delivers immediate benefits to those in legal need. Khan’s is the Greenwich Migrant Hub, which partners with local advice agencies such as GHR to offer free drop-in sessions for vulnerable migrants at the local community centre.
‘I realised after a few drop-in sessions providing housing law advice that a major issue in the local area was immigration,’ he says. After conversations with his manager, immigration law advice was integrated into the GHR’s service at the hub.
‘In a little over 12 months the project has become a pillar in the community whereby support is provided to deal with legal problems as well as ways to improve skills and integration within the community. This can be highlighted by visitors volunteering at the community centre after receiving support.’
Khan believes the GHR experience has made him a better person as well as a better lawyer. His experiences have convinced him social welfare law is where he wants to practise upon qualification.
With that in mind he wants the government to understand the challenges he and fellow social welfare lawyers are facing. ‘I would advise any justice minister to visit our local community centre to speak to practitioners who are on the front line so we can share our valuable knowledge. It would demonstrate how legal issues are linked and require a holistic approach and also show how a community is coming together to support each other.’
Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal