This week (6–11 November) is National Pro Bono Week – a fitting time for us to launch our new service: the Shelter Legal Pro Bono Service.
It’s a new programme that gives more of our service users access to free legal advice. Although providing legal help has long been part of our offering, we’re now taking an innovative approach by working collaboratively with law firms.
Bridging the gap
The new service will enable us to increase our capacity for legal support, and in particular, address the impact of Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 – which created a gap in housing advice for clients now ineligible for legal aid. The cuts in legal aid have meant a 50% reduction in funding for our legal services, making it extremely challenging for us to meet current client demand.
Our pilot phase
The first phase of the service, launching this week, comprises a pilot in the London Borough of Newham. Newham has the highest rate of households in temporary accommodation of all London boroughs; also topping the list for overcrowding. Our current capacity to support service users in Newham is limited, and we’re simply not able to offer legal help to everyone that’s in need.
Volunteer lawyers are now going to deliver legal advice sessions in Newham as part of an initial six-month pilot, which we intend to then roll out across additional locations. Our model (based on a consultation undertaken with law firms and a review of several Pro Bono Schemes) will help us support approximately 260 new service users during the pilot period.
Our service partners
For the pilot, we are working with volunteer lawyers from Goodman Derrick LLP, who specialise in property litigation work. By harnessing the skills and goodwill of their staff, we’re able to widen our legal advice offer, and provide a mutually beneficial corporate social responsibility initiative that we can propose to other firms.
We also have an existing partnership with Pro Bono Community, which we have expanded to support our programme. Through this we will have access to a cohort of volunteer law students, who will complete a specialised training programme tailored to housing. This prepares them to volunteer for our programme, mostly supporting administrative and triage functions.
Our final launch partner is Law Works, with the service registered on Law Works’ network of over 150 law firms. They are providing us with support developing our programme, advice on best practice, free legal and skills training, and resources for our volunteers.
We are delighted to be launching this new service, and to support so many more service users with legal advice.
- If you’d like to find out more about the service (or make a referral), please contact ProBono@shelter.org.uk.