At Hackney Community Law Centre’s pop-up advice shop, L.A.W meets long serving volunteer Simon Bowen
By the time Legal Aid Watch arrived at Hackney Community Law Centre’s pop-up shop last Monday, volunteer Simon Bowen had already dealt with 12 cases in just two hours. It’s the same every week, he says, but the centre is struggling to keep up with growing demand for legal advice since cuts to the government legal aid budget came into force in April.
“There’s a general lack of information about what people are entitled to,” he says. “They are often sent round the houses…they don’t know how to appeal, and they don’t understand their rights.”
Simon has been working with HCLC since 2011. As a volunteer, he spends one day a week triaging those in need of legal advice, organising this around his part time studying and teaching commitments. “I juggle everything, but I like to make a priority for this” he says.
The cases he sees range from housing and rent areas to benefits claims and immigration, and people have come from as far as Peckham to use HCLC’s services.
“The Law Centre can’t take in nearly as many cases as it used to. As much as this service is useful, solicitors just can’t afford to do it anymore,” Simon says. “But we are trying to react proactively to the budget cuts that are happening. They’re outrageous in many ways, but what do you do about it in the meantime?”
Volunteers like Simon can help signpost people to the solicitors and organisations best placed to help with their claims. “We have people who come back and back once they’ve had good advice, and we do have repeat clients,” he says.
Pop-up shops like the one run by HCLC every Monday at Hackney Library have also recently been rolled out in Haringey and Waltham Forest, apparently a direct response to increased demand for legal advisory services. With responsibilities ranging from filing court documents and legal research to shadowing caseworkers and writing letters, volunteers at such centres are proving to be an important resource for anyone trying to understand reforms to the legal aid system.
If you’ve been affected by legal aid cuts and are in need of advice, visit HCLC’s website here.