Petition to save North Kensington Law Centre
This is one of the original law centres and is still much in demand. It is facing nil payments from the LSC because of a perceived debt of £288,000 which will force it to close. Prem Ahluwahlia (YLAL Committee) coordinated a petition against its closure. Carolyn Regan (LSC) responded to our input in an e-mail dated 22 May as follows:
Dear Young Legal Aid Lawyers
Thank you for your letter of 20 May which Ian Kitchen forwarded to me.
The Legal Services Commission (LSC) recognises the difficulties that some Law Centres have faced in adapting to the new unified contracts and fixed fees paid to legal aid providers, and introduced since 1987.
We have worked intensively with North Kensington Law Centre to help them adapt successfully to the changes in how we pay them. The Legal Services Commission is not the only funder of this organisation; the Local Authority (The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea), London Councils and the Big Lottery provide additional monies.
The North Kensington Law Centre has a contract with the LSC to help people with problems in Immigration, Welfare Benefits, Housing, Employment and Education. We monitor their performance on a monthly basis, and meet regularly with the Law Centre and the Law Centres Federation to discuss progress.
At present, the centre effectively owes the LSC a large sum of money. We requested detailed information in January, again at a meeting on 6th March, and again this month but we have not received this information in full and are unable to ascertain a clear picture as to the organisation’s long-term sustainability. There is some doubt over the actual value of claims that has been reported to us over the
previous 18 months. Therefore we have not been able to justify a payment to them for May 2009.
From the cash flow forecast they have provided to us showing their reserves, it is clear that not making a payment in May will not cause financial difficulties over the next few weeks, over which time we hope to receive the information we have requested in order to clarify the position of their contract.
Once we understand the Law Centre’s financial position, we will discuss options for a plan to allow the Law Centre to repay its debts over a longer period and to remain in business. As we must safeguard public funds, however, we will only be able to reach such an agreement where there is an acceptable risk to taxpayers’ money. The LSC has demonstrated a willingness to reach such agreements outside of current payment rules, both with this particular agency in previous months, and with several other agencies nationally.
We will continue to work with North Kensington Law Centre and provide as much support as we can to aid the organisation to verify claims to date, reconcile their account and assure the LSC that their organisation continues to be viable.
Overall, legal aid investment in not-for-profit organisations – including Law Centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux – has grown to £87 million annually from nearly nothing a decade ago. Law Centres and their clients have benefited from this increase in funding.
There is no evidence that fixed fees undermine the quality of advice provided, in fact higher quality advice is often no more expensive, and in many cases costs less than average quality advice. Increasing numbers of clients are now receiving legal advice and help.
Legal Services Commission