New fund aims to inject immediate money into specialist legal advice agencies, plus provide longer term support as catalyst for wider renewal. All grants will be as flexible as possible to ensure the money is spent where it is most needed
A group of six grant-giving foundations have joined forces to launch the Community Justice Fund, giving financial and other support to specialist social welfare law advice agencies dealing with the impact of Coronavirus.
The fund was created in partnership with leading social justice organisations, who stressed the need for urgent, decisive action and maximum flexibility in how funding can be used.
Funders include the Access to Justice Foundation, Therium Access, Legal Education Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, AB Charitable Trust and Indigo Trust plus contributions from Law Society, Linklaters, Allen and Overy and London Legal Support Trust.
The Community Justice Fund will be hosted by the Access to Justice Foundation and opens with over £5m, including contributions from Ministry of Justice.
Funds are expected to be distributed quickly, and additional grant funders are expected to join the initiative in coming weeks and months, as the full impact of the pandemic becomes clearer.
Law Centres and legal advice agencies are invited to apply to the fund via a streamlined application process, with the first grants expected to be paid within two weeks. Grant applications can be backdated to 1 April 2020, to cover the urgent, unplanned spending organisations had to make in their initial response to the virus outbreak.
Grants from the new fund are expected to range from £25,000 to £100,000 and will be made to organisations specialising in key areas of social welfare law: immigration and asylum, community care, debt, disability, discrimination, education, employment, housing, immigration, mental health, public and administrative law, welfare benefits.
Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Network, says:
‘We welcome the speed with which funders have come together and understood the desperate situation we are in. Law centres and other legal charities live on a knife edge and it takes very little to knock them over. The funders have spoken to us to understand what’s needed and when. They are trusting the organisations to understand their own needs and how best this funding can help. That is very welcome.
‘The simplified application process means this funding has the potential to reach organisations who really need it, but aren’t skilled at writing funding bids. That will create quite a difference in those who get funding. It will have an immediate impact.’
Chilli Reid, Executive Director of AdviceUK says:
‘The arrival of the Community Justice Fund is great news. AdviceUK member organisations serve some of the most disadvantaged people in society; their work literally saves lives and livelihoods. The funders have engaged with and listened to those organisations doing this vital work.
‘With a stripped-down application process and being flexible, this fund will put money where it is most needed and allow organisations autonomy to spend to achieve maximum impact. The Community Justice Fund is most welcome.’
Andrew Seager, Director of Business Development at Citizens Advice says
We welcome the support being offered by the Community Justice Fund and thank all who’ve contributed to it. Local Citizens Advice offices and the wider legal advice sector have seen unprecedented changes in demand caused by Covid 19. For those successful in applying for funding, it will begin to help the sector adapt while it responds to the immediate and ongoing needs of the public.
Ruth Daniel, CEO, Access to Justice Foundation, says:
‘The Community Justice Fund will support specialist social welfare legal advice agencies who are providing essential support to people and communities now, and as we plan for life after Covid-19. Our funding will be flexible, so that organisations can respond to the challenges they are facing as they think best. Our aim is that the social justice sector doesn’t just survive the pandemic, but emerges from it stronger and more resilient than it was before the crisis.’
The social justice sector has become increasingly fragile after years of cuts, prompting fears that without decisive, concerted action, it would not survive the unprecedented extra pressure caused by Covid-19. Community Justice Fund grants will be fleixble, and can be used to cover the cost of shifting to remote working, maintaining, increasing or adapting services, as well as supporting the wellbeing of staff.
Early research by Law Centres Network shows its members are facing a surge in demand for legal advice, and a change in the kind of inquiries they are getting. One law centre reports receiving many calls from house sharers, whose landlords are insisting that, where one tenant cannot meet their rent, the others are liable to pay it. They are also seeing a large number of inquiries from employees, who have been sent home with no pay, or dismissed without explanation or notice.
In the research, other advice agencies reported struggling to adapt the way their services are provided because of outdated or limited IT:
‘We have an analogue telephone system which is not up to dealing with remote working. If we update our broadband, we would need to acquire a new switchboard and handsets – and we definitely cannot afford to do that.’
‘We desperately need 10 laptops and 10 combined printers/scanners as most of our staff don’t have these facilities at home and cannot continue to share their kids’ IT equipment for obvious reasons of information security.’
Fran Perrin, founder of the Indigo Trust (one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts), says:
‘Specialist advice organisations play a vital role in supporting some of the most disadvantaged members of society, and are hugely effective in terms of delivering positive outcomes for their clients. The Covid-19 crisis has massively increased the demand for their services, and will continue to do so for months or even years to come. As an existing funder of advice organisations, Indigo felt that it was essential to provide significant additional support at this time to ensure that these critical organisations can both survive and scale to assist as many people as possible.’