An emergency appeal has been set up to save the advice sector, which is ‘close to breaking point’ according to leading charities.
The Access to Justice Foundation and the London Legal Support Trust have established an emergency appeal which they hope will become a new National Advice Fund. They say that unless urgent action is taken, half of all frontline advice agencies will close.
The charities add that three-quarters face staff losses. Travel restrictions mean people are unable to visit advice services in the usual way. Advice services are being given over the phone or online, however to do so has created a substantial extra cost and reduced the ability to earn legal aid income. Law centres, specialist independent advice agencies and some Citizens Advice services have been identified as being at risk.
Ruth Daniel, chief executive of the Access to Justice Foundation, said: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has put further stress on what is already a fragile sector. Following years of cuts, the sector is now close to breaking point. Many agencies will be forced to close over the next two to 12 months unless urgent action is taken by the wider social justice community.’
Nezahat Cihan, chief executive of the London Legal Support Trust, said London alone was seeing a rapid increase in unemployment and the associated problems of debt and mishandled benefits claims. ‘As ever, this will be followed by homelessness and mental health problems,’ Cihan said.
The charities say the first £200,000 of donations will be matched.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.