Justice First Fellowship – opportunity to take up a training contract at Islington Law Centre

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Islington Law Centre is delighted to have been chosen as a host agency for the Justice First Fellowship programme.  This means that we are able to offer a training contract at ILC, with the opportunity to work alongside our highly experienced legal teams, and to make a real difference to the local community.

This post is funded by the Legal Education Foundation and by City Bridge Trust.

The programme aims to develop a new cohort of social welfare lawyers who have a strong commitment to access to justice, and the successful candidate will have the opportunity to work on their own project, as well as on our well established programme of activities.

Further details and the online application are available via the Legal Education Foundation website, here:-  https://jff.thelegaleducationfoundation.org/how-to-apply/

Volunteering at ILC [#1]

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Fundamental to the running of the Islington Law Centre is the invaluable help our volunteers provide.  Whether it’s volunteering on reception, helping the admin team, or assisting caseworkers and solicitors, our volunteers help run our Law Centre so that we can continue to provide legal help to the Islington community.

Our volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds – whether they’re students, career changers or those just looking to give back to the community, each individual brings their own set of skills and personality that develops the Law Centre’s culture.

We have asked some of our volunteers to answer some questions about their experience at the Law Centre, why they decided to volunteer and what they got out of it, and thought we would share their responses here!


Our first volunteer is Nur Hisyam bin Azman who volunteered in our Housing Unit in 2014 for 6 months:

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a law graduate and am working right now while undergoing training to be qualified in Singapore.

Why did you decide to volunteer with ILC?

To gain valuable experience in the legal industry I was getting into, give back to the community as I am intending to be a commercial lawyer thus there might not be many opportunities to do so in future and boost my cv.

What has been/was your favourite part about volunteering with ILC?

My supervising solicitor was a wonderful person to work with. She was willing to teach and very patient. Having the opportunity to work on actual cases and attend court hearings with barristers was also very enlightening at that early stage of my legal career.

What have you gained from volunteering with ILC?

A deeper interest in pro bono work and knowledge of housing law.

Would you recommend volunteering at ILC to others?

Yes, because the chance to work with a solicitor on actual cases is invaluable experience to law students and graduates who are hoping to start their legal careers.


If you are interested in volunteering with us, do visit our Volunteer page to learn more!

Residence Test Thrown Out by Supreme Court

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Last week the Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment, found against the Ministry of Justice (‘MoJ’) preventing them from introducing the ‘residence test’ scheme this summer.  This is an incredible win for legal aid and social justice and we at ILC could not be more proud of the Public Law Project (‘PLP’)!

What is the ‘residence test’?

In 2013 the MoJ issued a consultation paper, Transforming Legal Aid, proposing that applicants for civil legal aid be

  • lawfully resident in the UK, Crown Dependencies or British Overseas Territories at the time the application is made; and
  • lawfully residing in the UK, Crown Dependencies or British Overseas Territories for 12 months.

The MoJ provided exceptions to this test for armed forces personnel, asylum seekers.

The justification for this test was a concern over individuals with little or no connection to the UK who are able to benefit from the civil legal aid scheme without having contributed themselves (e.g. those who have not had to pay taxes in the UK).

Timeline

2013: Consultation paper by MoJ released.

2014: PLP challenges the proposal in the High Court who rule against the MoJ stating that the justice secretary did not have the powers to introduce the regulation through secondary legislation and that the test was excessively discriminatory.

2015: The Court of Appeal overturns the previous decision stating that the ruling placed an unjustifiable restraint on the government’s ability to control the legal aid budget and that the discrimination based on residence was not a characteristic ‘specially protected’ by law, such as sex or race.

2016: After the first day of a scheduled two-day hearing, the Supreme Court unanimously finds against the MoJ after just a few minutes of deliberation.

What does this mean?

At the outset, the MoJ will not be able to roll out the scheme this summer as intended.  Following the judgment, a MoJ spokesperson said: ‘We are of course very disappointed with this decision. We will now wait for the full written judgment to consider.’

This is a very important decision for the future of legal aid in the UK and could not have been possible without the hard work of PLP, Bindmans LLP, and barristers of Blackstone Chambers and Doughty Street Chambers.

#WhyWeWalk

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The 12th  annual London Legal Walk will be taking place this year on 16 May. It is a 10km walk through London and hosted by the London Legal Support Trust.  Last year over £700,000 was raised!  A phenomenal accomplishment.

The Trust has been a long time supporter of the Islington Law Centre and ILC have participated in the London Legal Walk for many years.  As the walk approaches and (we hope) donations are flooding in, we thought it would be a great time to talk about #WhyWeWalk:

We walk:

  • for asylum seekers wanting to be reunited with their families
  • for the single mum who was unfairly dismissed at her job leaving her unable to provide for her family
  • for the job seeker unreasonably sanctioned
  • for the newly landed immigrant who has been taken advantage of by a telecommunication company due to their lack of understanding of English
  • for the man whose relationship breakdown has thrown him into depression, cost him his job and is now in severe debt with no one to support him
  • for the disabled tenant who has been living with damp and mould for 2 years

We walk for those who wouldn’t have a voice if it weren’t for Law Centres.

Update (26/04/16): if you would like to donate to the Islington Law Centre’s Legal Walk team, please visit our justgiving page here – all donations are greatly appreciated!

Simplifying the Law

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The Law Society Gazette has recently reported that the Legal Services Board (LSB) is advising the legal sector to take a note from others to remove barriers for consumers confronted with legal problems.

The law has traditionally been difficult to navigate due to unnecessarily complex wording.  LSB have found that as a result, many individuals who have a consumer law issue do not seek the appropriate advice to resolve them.  Parallels were drawn to the finance, healthcare and utilities sectors which have taken great strides in improving the accessibility of their services to consumers.

In particular, three non-financial barriers to legal access were identified: inaccessible language, lack of trust and failure to serve the specific needs of vulnerable customers.

This report is particularly relevant to the Islington Law Centre where we specifically cater our services to individuals who have various barriers to legal advice (both financial and non-financial).  Our client group can be largely classified as vulnerable and our caseworkers and solicitors work tirelessly to ensure that their voices are heard.

Our Evening Advice Clinic provides free consumer law advice to individuals in the Islington area with the help of our pro bono partners.

If you think you may have a consumer law issue, please do get in contact for an appointment either via telephone, 020 7288 7633 (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm); or by email, eveningadvice@islingtonlaw.org.uk.

Welfare Benefit Unit Volunteering Opportunity

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The Welfare Benefits Unit is currently recruiting for volunteers!

As a volunteer with Islington Law Centre Welfare Benefits Unit, you will work alongside caseworkers providing support in all aspects of their work: including dealing with correspondence, preparing appeal bundles, recording statistical information, case file management and policy work. You will be given the opportunity to shadow caseworkers at client interviews and Tribunal hearings, and be involved in various community events.

You will play a key role in our weekly form filling clinic, assisting clients to complete welfare benefits application forms. Training, close supervision & support will be provided for this role. We are particularly interested in volunteers available to assist with this on a Wednesday.

We hope volunteering at the Law Centre will provide an interesting and valuable experience within a friendly and supported environment.

Travel expenses and lunch will be paid.

If you would like to join the WB volunteering team please complete a volunteer application form and send it to Barbara King.

Another Win for ILC!

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Congratulations are in order to the Debt & Consumer and Housing Units of ILC!

Both units have worked together closely in resolving a dispute regarding a housing association’s mishandling of billing tenants for the use of the district heating system.  It was a hard earned fight, but we received word from the Housing Ombudsmen Service last week that they have decided in favour of our clients.

Background

A group of tenants approached ILC early last year after receiving utility bills backdated 2 years (some bills were as high as £1,000!).  The reason for these arrears was due to the fact that ‘gas for heating and hot water’ was listed in the tenants’ service charges and as such, the tenants believed they were paying for this service as part of their rent.  The housing association attempted to back pedal and removed the ‘gas for heating and hot water’ aspect from the service charge; however, remained in their position that tenants were responsible for the past 2 years’ worth of utilities charges.

As social housing tenants, the majority of our clients are unemployed and/or in receipt of low income and not in a position to pay such a large amount out of pocket.  Their landlord is of course fully aware of these circumstances, but has paid no mind to such factors and continued to ask for payment.

A unique aspect of this case is the utilisation of a district heating scheme by the housing association.  District heating is a relatively new initiative and rather than draw energy from the city’s pipelines, these systems generate their own energy for a predetermined set of properties.  Such a network can be incredibly beneficial in terms of reducing the carbon footprint and costs for end users.

Unfortunately, the economic benefit of this system was lost on our tenants as the housing association failed to fully understand the scheme and bill their tenants properly.  This matter is further exasperated by the fact that district heating systems are not yet regulated by a governing authority.

After numerous attempts of settling this matter with the housing association itself, ILC lodged an application to the Housing Ombudsmen on behalf of 20+ tenants.

We are pleased to report that after a lengthy waiting period, the Housing Ombudsmen have decided in favour of our clients and have instructed the housing association to write off the backdated payment amounts.

Although a final outcome in this matter is still pending, the decision by the Ombudsmen is incredibly encouraging and we will continue to fight for the rights of our clients.

Welfare Benefits Team Looking for Volunteers!

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Our Welfare Benefits Team is currently recruiting for new volunteers!

As a volunteer paralegal with Islington Law Centre’s Welfare Benefits Team, you will support caseworkers in all aspects of their work: including dealing with correspondence, preparing appeal bundles, recording statistical information, case file management and policy work.  Training, close supervision & support will be provided.

You will be given the opportunity to shadow caseworkers at client interviews and Tribunal hearings, and be involved in various community events.

You will play a key role in our weekly form filling clinic, assisting clients to complete complex welfare benefit application forms.

We hope volunteering at the Law Centre will provide an interesting and valuable experience within a friendly and supported environment.

Travel expenses and lunch will be paid.

Requirements: we ask that you be available to volunteer for at least two days per week and must be available on Wednesday’s.

If you are interested in applying for this position please complete the following application and email it to Barbara King (barbarak@islingtonlaw.org.uk),

The deadline to apply is 6 January 2016.

Advising Islington Together Conference 2015

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AIT LogoIMG_4842On Tuesday 6th October 2015 the Islington Advice Alliance hosted their second Advising Islington Together Conference at Islington Town Hall.  It was a massive success and we heard from amazing speakers on issues affecting the Islington borough – particularly residents of the borough who are low income and vulnerable.
Members of Legal Action Group, England Illegal Money Lending Team, Voluntary Action Islington, Islington Council and CPAG all gave wonderful speeches, each providing insight from the unique perspective of their organisations.  The Islington Law Centre’s Centre Director, Ruth Hayes, also spoke and gave an insightful talk about legal issues concerning the borough, legal aid and overall challenges of access to justice.

IMG_4854There were also workshops run by Islington Law Centre, Islington CAB and London Capital Credit Union providing
information to individuals on welform updates, debt issues, family law updates, immigration, employment rights, and education matters.

The conference served as the launch event for the report “It’s no fun being on benefits: A study into experiences of Welfare Reform in Islington” developed by Every Voice and Islington Community Network, supported by Advising Islington Together.  (Watch this space for more on this!)

The feedback from the attendees was overwhelmingly positive with everyone expanding their knowledge and discovering new perspectives.

The Islington Advice Alliance thanks all those who attended, spoke and conducted workshops.  With so many changes to legal aid and welfare benefits, it is important for agencies and the public to keep up to date on these issues and understand how they effect residents and conferences such as these are great ways to do so.

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The Islington Advice Alliance is formed of Islington People’s Rights Islington Citizen’s Advice Bureau and Islington Law Centre.
For more information please see: Islington Advice Alliance 2015

For general enquiries or to make an appointment: Call 020 7288 7630