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Agencies in the Spotlight

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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