A branch of the charity Citizens Advice is taking tentative steps into charging for advice – and marketing itself as a cheaper alternative to solicitors.
Gateshead CAB Enterprises, a community interest company formed in 2012 to finance and support the work of the local advice centre, has created Job Law in response to demand for employment help.
The service offers a free 15-minute consultation followed by advice charged at £88 an hour.
The branch has charged clients for employment advice since April 2013, but has rebranded the offer in the last two months in a bid to serve greater numbers of people.
According to the company’s website, Job Law fills a need from clients who no longer have access to legal aid.
The website states: ‘High street solicitors’ fees – at around £180 per hour or more – are too costly for many people and no win no fee solicitors can take as much as 40% from any settlement gained.
‘As a solution, Job Law provides a half-price, professional legal advice service for employment claimants. The first consultant is free and any further advice required is on a “pay as you go” basis.’
Areas covered by the service include unfair dismissal, redundancy, discrimination and TUPE transfers.
As part of the terms of the enterprise, 100% of profits are put back into the CAB to provide free advice and services to clients.
A spokesman for the CAB said Job Law is being run as a trial in Gateshead to find alternative ways of bringing in funds. A similar scheme is also operating in Stevenage.
Alison Dunn, chief executive of Gateshead CAB, said: ‘It is really important that people have access to free and impartial face to face advice to help them solve their problems.
‘Each year Gateshead CAB provides free help to more than 10,000 people across a range of issues including debt, housing and finance.
‘The bureau provides free advice to 1,800 employment issues a year, but not all can be resolved without legal help. With the removal of legal aid for employment issues and fees often too high for people in need, the bureau recognised there was an emerging advice gap for some employment problems.
‘As a result Gateshead CAB Enterprises is testing a local pilot project to help people get legal support for employment issues at a lower cost. Since the project launched we have helped 300 people get back a total of £500,000 from their employers.’