Hammersmith residents fight to halt legal centre funding cut

The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham is being sued by three legal advice centre users to stop it cutting grants to the local law centre.

The three citizens, Hodan Ali, Sosen Assefa and Yasmine Pettigrew, all live or work in Fulham and have applied for a ‘fast-track’ order for the case to be heard urgently.

They are challenging the council’s 60 per cent grant cut on the basis that its decision was allegedly unlawful because it failed to carry out any proper consultation.

They also plan to argue that the council’s decisionmaking process in reducing the priority given to immigration advice was in breach of its duties under the Race Relations Act 1976.

Ali, Assefa and Pettigrew are being represented by South London firm Pierce Glynn, which specialises in housing, welfare and benefits.

Assistant Sue Willman said: “This cut will reduce access to justice for Hammersmith residents, especially those who are disadvantaged and most in need of legal advice, at a time when legal aid is already in short supply. The law centre’s clients are calling on the High Court to intervene because the decision is unlawful and discriminatory.”

The council has funded the centre for 28 years. The claimants allege that the decision to reduce the funding from £261,000 per year to £102,000 was made with less than two weeks’ notice and with no opportunity for representations to be made.

Hammersmith & Fulham has appointed Tim Kerr QC of 11KBW as counsel.

Cabinet member for community services Antony Lillis said: “We’ll be vigorously defending our review of the voluntary sector grants budget.

“The overall budget was increased by 2 per cent to £4.2m and was opened up to all local groups for the first time in more than 10 years. No grants were cut: previously funded groups had to apply along with new organisations.

“We’ll argue strongly that everyone had a fair chance to bid for money and that the process was clear and open.”