‘Bring your MP to Work Day’ is an initiative organised by Young Legal Aid Lawyers and the All Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid. This week (1st August 2019) the Member of Parliament for Brighton Kemptown, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, visited the Brighton Advice Centre run by Brighton Housing Trust to discuss legal aid and the challenges that providers face.
Visits such as this aim to show MPs the value of advice and the added value of early advice which has been lost because of changes brought about following the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
A spokesperson from Young Legal Aid Lawyers said of the ‘Bring your MP to Work Day’:
“The government has committed to piloting early legal advice in one area of social welfare law (e.g. housing). We need them to recognise that social welfare problems are complex and often not confined to one area of law. The government must commit to a comprehensive early legal advice pilot.”
The visit also coincided with the 70th anniversary of Legal Aid, introduced in 1949 to ensure that people could have access to justice regardless of their circumstances. Much of the work of BHT’s Brighton Advice Centre is funded through legal aid. I wrote about the 70th anniversary earlier this week.
Lloyd heard of the positive impact that BHT’s advice centres in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings had in preventing homelessness. In the year to the end of March, through advice and representation by BHT’s advice staff, 775 households avoided becoming homeless.
Other issues discussed with the MP included restrictions on who is eligible for legal aid which means that some people may go unrepresented in Court proceedings.
I was really touched by what Lloyd said after his visit: “I have been aware of and worked with BHT’s Advice Centre since before I became a Member of Parliament. The difference it makes to the city should not be underestimated, preventing homelessness and rough sleeping, and helping people navigate through the complexities of the welfare benefit system.
“If the housing and welfare benefit system worked properly, we wouldn’t have the worsening homelessness crisis and people wouldn’t be living in poverty. We shouldn’t need the ultimate safety net provided by BHT’s Advice Centre but until housing and the benefits system work, I will remain grateful for all the work that BHT staff do in this important service.”
My colleague, Nikki Homewood, Director for Advice and Support Services, responded by saying: “The impact that this service has on prevented homelessness and rough sleeping in Brighton and Hove cannot be overstated. Can you imagine how much worse the situation would be if we had not prevented so many households from becoming homeless?
“Legal aid funding makes our work possible. £600,000 or 81% of the income of our Brighton Advice Centre comes through legal aid. Brighton and Hove City Council supports this work with a grant of £77,000. The service relies on fundraising and it still runs at a loss.
“The service makes a huge contribution to the city, preventing homelessness, bringing in £600,000 investment into the city, and providing employment for twenty members of staff.”
In 2018/19, the Brighton Advice Centre worked with 930 different households, a third of whom were over 45 years old and 166 were under 25 years old.
The Brighton Advice Centre recently moved from Queen’s Road in Brighton to BHT’s head office at 144 London Road. Other services provided at the advice centre include a specialist Immigration Advice Service and a Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme at Brighton County Court where those facing eviction can get eleventh hour advice and representation from one of BHT’s solicitors. We provide a similar service in Hastings.