London law centre stands firm against closure threat

A LONDON council's problems with a local law centre – once described as a “non-hierarchical, classic 1970s collective” – have taken a new turn with the council bent on evicting the staff from its property.

Tottenham Neighbourhood Law Centre is refusing to close down despite Haringay Council ceasing to renew its £200,000 a year funding after a 31 December deadline.

It is campaigning against the councillors as “perpetrators of oppression and injustice in Tottenham”.

The law centre, which sees its remit as including acting as a “campaigning machine” for local residents, claims to have “zillions” of signatures on a petition to keep it open, according to a statement last week.

This is despite the fact that leading community interest groups are, according to Haringay, working with the council to establish a new law centre.

The story started last year when the council decided to close the law centre after what it said were repeated attempts to raise the centre's poor standards of performance and management.

Closure on 31 December was to be followed with a new centre and staff on 1 January.

However, the new centre has not opened, leaving the council open to accusations of depriving local people of a service.

Councillor David Coates said local community groups working to set up the new centre chose to delay its start, possibly by two or three months, in order to “do the job properly”.

Plans were laid to provide the service elsewhere but the old centre has continued to handle outstanding cases.

The law centre claims that more than 90 per cent of its cases were against the council on housing matters and this is the reason why Haringay wanted to close it down – an accusation the council rejects.

The battle is set to continue, with the law centre threatening legal action to prevent, so far successfully, the council from “illegal” entry to its premises.