An award-winning legal advice centre has had to temporarily close its enquiry system for the first time in nine years due to a surge in demand against a backdrop of legal aid cuts.
Undergraduate and postgraduate students volunteering at Queen Mary Legal Advice Centre in London provide advice, under the supervision of qualified lawyers, on a range of areas including housing, immigration, family, employment, data protection and family law.
In 2010 it was named winner in the ’best team of students’ category at the Attorney General’s Pro Bono Awards.
The centre has helped nearly 1,500 clients since it opened in 2006.
However, this morning it tweeted:
A statement posted on its website reads: ‘Due to the current high demand for legal advice, we are unable to deal with new enquiries until we have cleared the backlog. We anticipate having completed this by 16 October.’
The centre’s director and founder Julie Pinborough said the centre has a 48-hour callback policy, which had always been met over the past nine years.
’This year the demand has been too overwhelming for us to meet this expectation,’ she said.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which came into force in April 2013, removed public funding for huge areas of civil work, including welfare benefit, debt, immigration and most housing.
Before the cuts, the centre received around 120 enquiries a month. In September this year, it received 243 enquiries. This month it has already received 67 enquiries in eight days.
Pinborough said enquiries have mainly increased in areas ’where cuts have had the most impact’ such as family, immigration and criminal law.
The centre’s backlog is expected to take a week to clear.
’Not only is it an unusually busy time in the demand for legal assistance, it is the start of term and our new student client team have just been selected and are now being trained,’ Pinborough said.
’We’ve appointed more student volunteers this year so we can meet our client expectations and ensure we offer an efficient and responsive service to them.’