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Agencies in the Spotlight

Lewisham Refugee & Migrant Network (LRMN)

LRMN help over 1,000 people each year, supporting people with asylum and immigration, welfare, housing, employment and skills advice, gender based violence. Their casework team of 9 have seen a significant increase in demand for their services.

LRMN's vsion is to have a fair, just and equal society where people can live in harmony.

Their mission is to empower refugees and migrants to thrive, make a positive contribution, integrate and take control of their own lives.

LRMN's CEO, Fiona Keating, says this about their work:- "The clients that we see are the most vulnerable, the ones who think they have no hope any more, the ones who cannot get legal aid or support from local authorities.

"We have very limited resources so we prioritise those clients who have no recourse to public funds, are destitute. Sometimes we get clients that are homeless, just come here with their suitcases and children. They have nowhere to go."

Delina's story

Delina* is 28 years old, from Bulgaria*. She has lived through 6 years of abuse and forced prostitution in her home country. She was referred to the Women's Project by the Refugee Council in November 2015, following the identification of ongoing support needs in dealing with her trauma symptoms and the pressure that her insecure immigration status was having on her.

Delina did not sleep well and suffered from intense headaches as well as pains in her body. She was often very upset and found it hard to manage her stress. This was due to her leave to remain situation and as a result, her fear of becoming homeless and destitute. She had no family in this country and very limited emotional support in her day to day life. Delina has been receiving 1-1 counselling with LRMN's counsellor since October 2014. During therapy it became apparent that she was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe depression and anxiety.

Delina's asylum claim was refused in March 2015. LRMN's involvement in her case was substantial. Her counsellor was asked to write in-depth reports about her mental and emotional state and to give their specialist opinion to the judge at the trial. Delina was given two-year leave to remain. Her lawyer is confident that her leave to remain will be renewed and Delina will be allowed to stay in the UK indefinitely. The judge saw her case as trafficking and stated that her going back to Bulgaria would put her at risk of being trafficked again.

Delina took some time to realise that her ordeal was over and, once she got the official written decision from the judge, she organised a big party to celebrate the good news with all the people that supported her.

(*Names and country of origin have been changed)

 

 Mary's story

Mary was an asylum seeker from Algeria. Her two children have very serious health problems .  Her son has Global Development Delay which retards the developmet of the child in various ways while her daughter has Anorectal Malformation which requires srious surgery to correct. She had been refused Asylum and refused housing and was in despair until LRMN stepped in. 

They made an application to appeal against the asylum decision out-of-time and that was granted. At the Appeal, Mary was granted asylum. LMRN also took up Mary's houing claim and gained her housing thus enabing Mary to be in a settled situation and able to d al with her children's medical problems.  

Islington Law Centre

Islington Law Centre provides specialist casework help in debt, education, employment, housing, immigration/asylum, public law and welfare benefits, and has 3 specialist projects (Migrants' Law Project, Migrant and Refugee Children's Legal Unit and Streetlegal, which supports young people at risk of homelessness). The Law Centre have a caseload of over 1,500 client matters and provide over 2,000 outreach appointments each year.

Despite the image of the borough, it has the second highest child poverty rate in London, and the Law Centre's welfare benefit team secured over £2m in additional income for local residents last year - over 90% of them disabled people.

The Windrush generation clients have been in the news recently but the Law Centre have been working on this issue for years.

Lasith was one of that generation. 

In 2014, journalist Fiona Bawdon was already writing about the Windrush scandal and  met Lasith. He had just been given a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and a life expectancy of 18 months.

When she saw him again  four years on and he was doing well. 'He credits his recovery to being put on a trial drug, which had, in his words, a 'miraculous' effect,' she wrote. 'He has been "completely shocked and overwhelmed" by all the Windrush coverage. Thanks to his lawyer, Islington Law Centre's Roopa Tanna, Lasith has indefinite leave to remain, and is hoping to apply for British citizenship.'

Zadie's story

Zadie* had been without any income (except Child Benefit) for herself and her young daughter for several months when Islington Law Centre saw her. She had been refused Employment and Support Allowance on the grounds that she was a person from abroad, and did not satisfy the right to reside and habitual residence tests for entitlement to means tested benefits in the UK.  

The Law Centre were able to successfully appeal the ESA claim on the grounds that she had a temporary right to reside in the UK as the primary carer of a British child in non-advanced education. The successful appeal meant that she was awarded over £190 a week on an ongoing basis, with backdated income of over £5,000, enabling her to meet rent and Council tax liabilities.  This has made a huge difference to Zadie and her daughter.

(*names have been changed)

Other examples of the vital support Islington Law centre provides:

Another client with a claim for unfair dismissal and age discrimination at work was assisted to bring proceedings and was represented at the Employment Tribunal at the Preliminary Hearing and at Judicial Mediation.  A favourable settlement was reached.  Help with employment cases assists people to remain in paid employment, and also prevents people from being unable to claim benefits whilst they look for work.

Law Centre staff have been able to help a very vulnerable child (originally from Syria) who had been in the camp in Calais to obtain refugee status, and then taken legal action to re-unite our client with their parents and brother, so that the family are now together again. 

Many of the clients the Law Centre work with face severe hardship and possible homelessness and destitution and legal help at the right time can make a difference for a lifetime.

 

Southwark Law Centre 

Southwark Law Centre help people with housing, employment, welfare and immigration cases as well as undertaking community and planning support work. 

Their links with all of the community groups in the borough are excellent and all of  their cases are taken on by referral from local agencies. 

One large piece of work undertaken recently is supporting the tenants at the Ledbury Estate where 4 tower blocks have been (finally) deemed unsafe. 

the Ledbury Estate

The Ledbury Action Group non-profit documentary is available to preview at www.ledburyestate.com/videos

The Ledbury Estate contains 4 tower blocks and 224 flats, off the Old Kent Road in Southwark. Residents had complained to Southwark Council for years about the terrible conditions they were living in, including large cracks to the walls and damp. After the Grenfell tragedy, residents demanded a proper response from Southwark Council and set up the Ledbury Action Group.

The cracks were so severe that if a fire started in one flat it couldn't be contained. If there were a gas explosion in one flat, the entire block was at risk of collapse. As a result, Southwark Council turned off the gas supply to all four blocks. This left residents with no heating or hot water, and for many, no cooking facilities.

The Council panicked. Residents were told they could move out temporarily or permanently. They were offered discretionary home loss payments and Band 1 priority for rehousing on the waiting list.

The Ledbury Action Group approached Southwark Law Centre (SLC) for support. Following discussions with the residents, SLC coordinated 4 drop in advice sessions helping around 70 of the households.  The "Southwark Group of Tenants" Organisation provided a free venue and printed and distributed flyers and information sheets for the residents. Cambridge House Law Centre, Citizens Advice Southwark and Advising Communities also helped out with the sessions.

SLC gave advice on areas such as housing allocations, compensation and disturbance payments and pulled in the help of a large private practice firm who took on disrepair cases. SLC organised a workshop on disrepair for council tenants so that people were more aware of their rights.

 The Ledbury Estate case is ongoing. Currently around one-third of residents have moved out of the towers into alternative council homes within the borough. Leaseholders have been offered full market value for their properties, or shared equity transfer to another council property. Southwark Council will be taking a decision in Autumn 2018 on whether they will refurbish the towers, or demolish and rebuild them. All tenants have been promised the right to return, but the detail on this is not yet known. Several residents are persuing legal action against Southwark Council.

 

Hastings Advice & Representation Centre (HARC)

Hastings Advice & Representation Centre (HARC) provides free confidential advice, information and representation to over 10,000 people in a typical year, raising over three million pounds in unclaimed benefits.

HARC is a registered Charity. It has two shops, one in Hastings and the other in St Leonards-on-Sea. We rely on donated items in order to raise funds for our confidential Advice Service.

What HARC do:

1. Relieve local poverty and improve the quality of life for people on a low income.
2. Ensure correct Benefits/Tax credits received by anyone on low income.
3. Facilitate a return to employment.
4. Assist people with disabilities, mental health problems and long term illness to live independently.
5. Provide older people with easy access to benefits information and a comprehensive support package.
6. Ensure dependants have support.

Brenda's story

Brenda's husband has locked in syndrome and lives in residential care. He doesn't recognise or talk with his family at all. This has put them all under extreme pressure. Brenda's son developed serious mental health issues and attempted suicide 2 years ago. She now lives in fear that her son will take his own life.

Brenda has mental health problems that arose from these traumas and has been diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes, Coeliacs disease and a Heart condition. She was unable to eat as it caused her such pain. Brenda became dependent on alcohol to manage the distress she was experiencing. She found herself in a vicious cycle that was impossible to break.

Brenda is a single woman living in a Housing Association rented property with her adult son. She was receiving ESA and Housing and Council tax benefit. She was also in receipt of Personal Independence Payment at the Enhanced rate of Daily Living.

She went to see HARC last year because she had been asked to complete a PIP renewal claim. As a result of a poor quality medical assessment her renewal claim was refused. She requested a Mandatory Reconsideration which was also refused. Working together closely with HARC on her appeal she slowly opened up and allowed the caseworker to see how bad things had become. Her caseworker was able to present her case fully and frankly to a Tribunal and as a result she won her appeal. Her Personal Independence Payment was reinstated at Enhanced Rate Daily Living.

Toynbee Hall Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC)

Founded in 1898, Toynbee Hall's Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) is believed to be the oldest continuously running pro bono legal advice centre in the world. For 120 years, FLAC has served the most-in-need people in East London and throughout London, and the service currently runs between three and five clinics every week, covering a wide range of legal areas including employment, immigration, housing and women-only legal advice, for those who would not otherwise be able to afford legal support. Almost 1500 people received advice from FLAC in 2016/17.

Throughout its history, FLAC has been fortunate to benefit from the committed support of pro bono partners, who provide much-needed volunteers to support the service, FLAC is almost entirely staffed by volunteers, with around 150 volunteers giving 1286 hours of their time to the service last year. 

Assad's story

Assad has a history of sleeping rough. With support and hard work he managed to secure both a job and a home to rent. However, he was on a zero hour contract and despite often working many long hours, his income was unpredictable. Due to the fluctuations in his wages, he found it hard to claim housing benefit and he got into rent arrears which led to him being served a possession notice.

When he came to FLAC for help, Assad was very distressed. With only a few days until his hearing, Assad was frightened of once again becoming labelled as 'intentionally homeless' and consequentially having to go back to sleeping rough on the streets.

The staff at Toynbee Hall booked Assad an urgent appointment with a FLAC adviser who drafted his defence. Assad was relieved when he was granted a suspended possession order and was asked to pay a manageable amount back to help clear the arrears. Assad continues to receive support from Toynbee Hall's benefits and financial management team.

Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID)

BID provides legal advice and representation to migrants detained in removal centres and prisons to secure their release. They also undertake research and policy advocacy to effect change.

This case report and the quotes show why the service is very much needed. 

Michael*

Abused and tortured in his home country, Michael arrived in the UK initially on a student visa. He has now lived in the UK for 12 years and has started a family. After serving an 18 month sentence for working without permission he was transferred to an immigration detention centre even though he could not be removed.

Michael suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. He was assessed as a Level 3 adult at risk which, the guidance states, means that 'detention is likely to lead to a risk of significant harm to the individual if detained for the period identified as necessary to effect removal'. Yet, Michael continued to be detained.

"Detention made me suicidal and also made me physically attempt to end my life four times because I couldn't see past those four walls.

Even worse, my partner and son became homeless because I was in detention and she had no funds for childcare and could not work full time and support our child. Detention took everything away from us"

Michael was refused bail on two separate occasions, but was finally released on Temporary Admission following an application from BID.

Last year BID helped 140 families who had been torn apart by immigration detention by providing vital legal advice to parents in detention, supporting them to apply for bail and to challenge their deportation.

Salina*

"The tough thing is this environment. Not being able to go out, to do things, to move on, being locked up... Sometimes it's like somebody's suffocating me, like I can't breathe. Because every time I just look at walls, walls."

Hafez*

"Detention is like prison, you are locked up. There is no difference between prison and detention."

Helen*

"The second time I went into detention, it was the worst...when I used to hear that people had committed suicide, I used to say that nothing would make me take away my life. But when I was detained the second time, inside the van, that was when I realised that when you are in so much pain, when you are harming yourself, you do not feel the pain."

(*names have been changed)

Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre

Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre have been helping local residents for nearly 40 years. They are best known for their housing work which they undertake both on legal aid and in cases where legal aid is not available (which are numerous since LASPO!) 

They attend housing possession duty days at Brentford and Wandsworth County Courts and run in a drop-in advice session at the local food bank. 

The housing work was recognised at the 2017 LALY awards where senior housing solicitor, Sue James, won the national "outstanding achievement" award. On presenting the award, Baroness Doreen Lawrence said it was for Sue's "dedication to battling for the rights of 'the dispossessed and repossessed, the mentally ill and the poor'."

That sums up the work of the whole law centre be it in housing, immigration/asylum or community care cases. 

Two of the Law Centre's saddest case reports involve a woman who took her one lightbulb from room to room, and a mother penalised under the bedroom tax after her daughter died, leaving her with a spare room. This one is more representative of an "everyday" case:- 

Alice's Story

Alice is a 25 year old single mother, her child is just a few months old. She is a survivor of domestic violence so serious that it has left her with lifelong injuries. She suffered this violence in her own home. The severity of the attacks has meant it is no longer safe for her to live in her assured tenancy property. She suffers from severe depression and panic attacks and relies heavily upon her support network in the borough.

She submitted a request to the housing association for a transfer. Two unsuitable offers were made to her, including one on the same estate as the perpetrator's family. She refused the offers and was told by the housing association that they would be closing her case as nothing further could be done for her and she had to return to her property.

In fear of her life, Alice went to Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre who intervened. The housing association has now made Alice an offer of accommodation within the borough, close to her mother's property. She can now begin to rebuild her life and looks toward abrighter future for her and her child.

 

Prisoners' Advice Service (PAS) 

PAS pursues prisoners' calls for help about their treatment in prison by providing advice and information and, where appropriate, taking legal action.

Last year the charity, along with the EHRC and the Howard League won a long running case in the Court of Appeal to have the right of prisoners to gain legal aid for a range of serious matters reinstated after the Government barred that right.

Most of the 900 face to face advices that PAS give and the 9,000 letters they write each year however are about individual rights and problems of a very human kind.

Arthur's Story

Arthur was an elderly wheelchair user who suffered from incontinence and mental health problems. He was about to be released form prison to become street homeless as his local authority, even though alerted to Arthur's imminent release and health problems, has done nothing to sort out his housing.

PAS contacted the local authority with a pre action letter remidning them of their duties and after some "discussion" social services found Arthur suitable accomodation to which he was released. 

Leoni's Story

Leoni was to be released from prison in three weeks' time, with no accommodation. She was at risk of being homeless. She had applied for Resettlement Overnight Release (ROR) to see her four children and find suitable accommodation for her family but that was refused by the prison. This meant that Leoni had nowhere to live and could not be reunited with her children on release.

Leoni is the sole care giver to her children and her daughter was undergoing tests for a terminal illness. The prison's refusal was a devastating blow to the family. 

A PAS caseworker challenged the prison's decision to deny Leoni ROR in the last 28 days of her sentence and their failure to take into consideration the best interests of the children.

The prison reversed their decision and granted ROR to Leoni within 24 hours of action by PAS. She can now be reunited with her children and give her daughter the love and care she needs.

South West London Law Centres (SWLLC)

South West London Law Centres has four offices: Battersea, Croydon, Merton and Kingston and they serve 6 Boroughs. The poverty that was highlighted in the 70's play "Up The Junction" still persists in the area today. 

They have 20 caseworkers which is about half s many as before the LASPO cuts to legal aid. Nevertheless they help nearly 20,000 people a year in the areas of housing, immigration & asylum, welfare benefits, community care and public law.

That is made possible because 8,000 of those are helped by pro bono lawyers from Allen & Overy, Bates Wells Braithwaite, Broadway Solicitors, Capsticks, Clifford Chance, Eversheds, Holman Fenwick & Willan, K&L Gates, Norton Rose Fulbright, Radcliffes Le Brasseur, Russell-Cooke, Simmons & Simmons and Signature Litigation who attend the Law Centres evening advice surgeries. 

Even so they can't meet demand and have to turn away 1 in 3 people who come to them for help because the Law Centre is simply full up. 

Housing has always been a mainstay of SWLLC's work . A number of their cases are legally difficult. This is one that they would describe as an "everyday case". 

Anastasia's story

One day Anastasia's daughter opened a letter which threatened the family with eviction.

Anastasia, a single Mum,  came to SWLLC in tears, she wasn't able to look her adviser in the eye. She had fallen into rent arrears and her landlord had applied for a possession warrant. Her two young children were threatened with homelessness.

Anastasia was living with severe depression and had felt suicidal. SWLLC made an appointment for her to see a psychiatrist. She was suffering from mental health conditions and PTSD. This made navigating the benefits application process impossible and she couldn't face opening her post. She was ignoring important letters from the court and her landlord. As a result her benefits were stopped completely.

SWLLC were able to use the psychiatrist's report to resolve Anastasia's benefits issues and to explain that there was a good reason that requests for information had not been met in the past.

The work of the law centre meant that her benefits were reinstated and payment plan set up. Anastasia and her children were able to remain in their home and regain some stability in their lives.

Derek's Story

Derek was so ill he had kidney dialysis three times a week. He was give a housing transfer but had to wait for the new flat to be leaned and redecorated as the disrepair would have worsened his condition. He therefore claimed housing benefit on the two homes while the work was done s the law says that is allowed while a home is "adapted".

The council refused the benefit. They said that decoration and cleaning wasn't adaption. 

Derek went to the tribunal and lost. He appealed to the Upper Chamber where the Judge ruled that carpeting and redecoration didn't amount to adaption. 

Derek went to South West London Law Centre who took the case to the Court of Appeal. In the face of stiff opposition from Government lawyers, they won the case for Derek and for people in his position in the future. 

 

ATLEU (Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit)

Today, in the UK, victims of trafficking are living in our streets and neighbourhoods. ATLEU's clients come to them traumatised, destitute and in desperate need, often having been failed by the very services that should protect them. Just having their stories listened to and believed, often for the first time, makes a world of difference to them. ATLEU then go on to make sure that they get the help and support that they need to rebuild their lives and to get justice from their traffickers.

 

Essie's Story

My job was to do all of the housework and look after Madam's four children. I was never paid and I didn't go to school. I wasn't allowed to leave the house. I had no family and no friends. One day Madam said that we were moving to the UK. I didn't have a say.

We lived in a house in London. I was not allowed to eat my meals with the family but would have to eat alone, after they had finished. At night, I slept on a mattress on the floor of the children's room. Madam would keep the front door locked. It was like being in prison. When visitors came I was sent to the children's room; they never even knew I existed. I had to wake up every day at 6am and I wasn't allowed to go to sleep until all of the children were in bed and I had finished all of the cleaning and tidying. Madam was often angry. She would throw things at me, swear at me and beat me with a wooden spoon. You can still see the scars from the injuries she caused. One day Madam came at me and I fled.

For once the door wasn't locked because Madam had just been out. When it opened, I ran. But I had no idea where to go so I relied entirely on the help of a church I found. After years of being dependent on them and with no home of my own, I fell pregnant. This was when ATLEU stepped in. They knew right away how to help me. They worked to keep me and my baby together and safe. Now I have a home, I have learned to read and write English as well as computer skills and I am doing a health and social care course. I just got my first job as a care assistant and now my dream is to become a nurse. I used to wake up and feel fear in the pit of my stomach. Now I have put my past behind me I can look with hope to the future.

Era's Story

As a child I was locked in by my parents. They kicked and beat me. I was deprived of an education, of friends, of a childhood.

When I was 21 I was sent to help my sister care for her children. I took them to a local park where I met a young man called Lukas. He was kind and affectionate and promised to look after me. He said we should go to the UK where I would be safe, and I trusted him.

When we arrived in the UK Lukas told me I had to work as a prostitute. When I refused he beat me and threatened to kill my sister's children. Men visited me for sex every day. One day they forgot to lock the door. I ran.

I told the police but they never caught Lukas. The government said I was a victim of trafficking but after making this decision they stopped supporting me. I was left penniless and homeless. I went to the council for help but they sent me away.

Then I went to see ATLEU.

At ATLEU, the lawyer listened to my story. I told her how I was too scared to go out alone as I lived in fear of Lukas finding me. I told her about the panic attacks, blackouts and nightmares.

She presented my case to the council and used the law to make them house me. With a safe place to live I have been able to start to recover from my experiences. Now I have a job and I am planning to finally get the education I never had.

Tanya's Story

ATLEU also help domestic slaves like Tanya.

'Tanya' worked seven days a week, 18 hours a day for four and a half years. She was on call 24 hours a day and was forced to sleep on the floor. She was paid 11p an hour.

She had her Bible taken away from her and was prevented from attending church. She was completed isolated and not allowed to contact her family.

Tanya's captors set up a bank account in her name which they controlled and used for their own benefit.

She was refused legal aid because the Legal Aid Agency said her case was not serious enough.

ATLEU acted for Tanya throughout the ordeal of separate tribunals on separate issues in the case and won all of them for her.

 

 
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