Tower Hamlets Law Centre may shut services as it faces 65 per cent funding cuts

A LAW centre which has offered East Enders free advice for the past 40 years is fearful many of its services will end as it faces a 65 per cent cut in funding.

Tower Hamlets Law Centre in Whitechapel Road – one of the capital’s leading facilities – predicts it will have to turn away hundreds of desperate Londoners over the next few years when the Government’s austerity cuts hit.

Departments dealing with issues from immigration, domestic violence and housing could shut.

Centre manager Sue Brown said: “It’s a disaster. Whole areas of law will go unless we are funded by someone else.

“There is research that says every �1 spent on legal advice saves �10 for taxpayers down the line. Problems can spiral out of control if people don’t know their rights.”

Some of the centre’s staff and users joined MPs Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick last week at the House of Commons to lobby against the cuts.

Unite, which is fronting the Justice for All campaign, predicts 100,000 people across the country will be affected by the cuts and warned they come at the worse time.

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Rachael Maskell, a union officer, said: “Because of the austerity measures which will cause joblessness, repossession of homes and relationship breakdowns, everyone should have an interest in a strong legal aid system. It could, unfortunately, be ‘you’.”

Tower Hamlets Law Centre gets around a third of its funding from central government, another third from London Councils and 15 per cent from Tower Hamlets Council.

London Councils is withdrawing its grant in June and the centre will lose 10 per cent of government cash in October.

London Councils went through a massive overhaul of its coffers last year and voted to place funding of pan-London organisations - like the law centre - back in the hands of local authorities.

But Tower Hamlets Council refused to say whether it would bridge the funding gap in the next few years.

Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said: “It’s extremely worrying because Tower Hamlets has a lot of needy people. The centre provides expertise in areas of law which people really need help with. Access to justice is going to be for the rich.”

Poplar and Limehouse MP Jim Fitzpatrick said: “The cuts they are facing are disproportionate.”

The Ministry of Justice decided in November there was an “overwhelming case” for reforming legal aid, arguing the current system is one of the most expensive in the world.

A spokesperson said: “Since the legal aid scheme was established in 1949 its scope has been widened far beyond what was originally intended.

“Many of the issues [legal aid providers] deal with, such as debt, require practical rather than legal advice.”