Wave One – Overview and Reflections

Wave one overview

Wave one of the Community Justice Fund was open for applications from 11 May to 18 September 2020. During that time, we received 278 applications and made 171 grants to legal advice charities across the UK, totalling £8,520,099. The Law Centres Network, in alignment with the Community Justice Fund, administered a fund of a further £3 million.

You can find summaries of all grants made on the Access to Justice Foundation’s website. Our grants are also searchable on the 360Giving platform, GrantNav.

In addition, during the period of the grants, we continue to work with the organisations to support them through this difficult period. We developed an organisational support programme, ‘Funder Plus’, to provide organisations with tools necessary in this crisis.

Reflections

Analysis of the wave one applications has revealed that the majority of advice agencies have reserves well below Charity Commission guidelines. Many are projecting significant losses of income, particularly those doing legal aid work. The pandemic has shone a light on the fragility of the sector which is hugely worrying given those most impacted by the pandemic will need urgent access to quality legal advice as economic fallout deepens. Some agencies have been warned to anticipate future cuts in grant income and in funding from local authorities. The message is clear: there are extremely difficult times ahead.

Advice agencies are already reporting significant increases in demand in employment law, housing and homelessness, discrimination, debt and welfare rights

The legal advice sector faces a cliff edge in 2021 due to the combination of:

  • Reduced income both from the lack of legal aid clients this year and likely reductions in grant and public sector funding.
  • Massively increased demand particularly in area not funded though legal aid such as welfare rights, debt, and employment law.
  • Service delivery challenges COVID-related social distancing, and the sheltering of vulnerable clients and staff alike have presented immense challenges in 2020. Should these conditions continue into 2021 then the delivery of services will continue to be more resource-hungry than they were in the pre-COVID world.

The advice sector moved incredibly swiftly to move from face-to-face client support to remote support, using a combination of digital and phone technologies. There is considerable scope to scale and replicate the best of these approaches nationally, and this will be an area of focus for Wave Two (and beyond). This transition also served to highlight how some of the most marginalised (and in need) communities are excluded from digital solutions. Any future developments of such approaches must be made in tandem with effective face-to-face provision to ensure universal coverage.

Advice agencies tell us of the importance of both continuing with crisis support to sustain and scale up services, while recognising there is a longer term piece of work here to strengthen access to justice over the next five to ten years. For example succession planning is key in the longer term but staff also need to be supported right now.

It is crucial that we communicate effectively and in a transparent way about the work we are doing and why we are doing it. We need to develop an approach which listens all the relevant voices, especially those of our clients.

Feedback from organisations

We value open and honest conversations with the organisations we fund and conducted a short survey into the development and implementation of the Fund. We are particularly interested in how far we lived up to the principles we set at the start. We will publish the results of the survey here, and below are some early comments from organisations funded through the programme.

Disability Law Service

“At a time when organisations across the advice sector were facing financial pressure, the grant from the CJF provided stability and enabled us to continue to provide full support to the disabled people whom we represent. The additional grant we received will enable us to go the extra mile by recruiting a paralegal to enable our expert solicitors to focus more time on high value casework and to cope with increased demand.”

To visit the DLS website, click here.

Southampton Advice and Representation Centre

“The support from CJF has helped us to increase our adviser capacity during this crucial time of economic uncertainty. We have had increasing demand for support from clients facing the challenges of benefits for the first time and employment related enquires often sadly redundancy linked. We have successfully managed to evolve our primarily face to face service to a remote COVID safe service. We have done this by embracing technology and working smartly to cater for clients and taking them with us tailoring service delivery to their needs. Financial assistance with the costs involved in this transformation has been invaluable. We found the application process to be swift and supportive. Indeed, the relationship feels more like a partnership than a traditional sometimes distant funder/organisation relationship.”

To visit the SARC website, click here.

Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network

“The funding was a lifeline to our clients who are mainly vulnerable, destitute and have no recourse to public funds (NRPF). Those who are eligible to work but have NRPF have lost their jobs and or the families and friends supporting them have become unemployed thus losing their support system.”

To visit the LRMN website, click here.