I’ve been part of Shelter’s Legal team for nearly a year now. Legal Aid cuts mean that there are fewer and fewer places for those affected by the housing crisis to turn to for help. I work with some brilliant colleagues (our London team includes not one but two Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award-winners) who skilfully handle complex legal work with genuine compassion for our clients.
We manage a caseload of clients each with their own extremely difficult situation. Sometimes I advise clients for whom their current emergency is just the latest in a series of tragic life events. At other times I advise people who require legal help for the very first time because of a single unexpected disaster.
A single disaster can put someone at risk of losing their home
Recently I worked with a client who suffered a serious back injury and had to stop work as a shop assistant. When his landlord – who was also his employer – learned that he would be out of work for some time, he lost his job and his home.
When the client contacted Shelter, he was sleeping on the floor of a café with his wife and children, after being turned away by the local council.
We persuaded the council to organise temporary hostel accommodation for the family while they considered an application for longer term housing. Unfortunately due to a delay in getting sickness benefits up and running, the hostel owner threatened to evict the family. Once again they were faced with street homelessness.
We fought their case hard and managed to get the council to accept a full duty to rehouse the family, and they are now working to rebuild their lives.
A crisis can happen to anyone
This kind of crisis can, and does, happen to anyone. I am reminded daily that it is only a matter of luck that I am sitting on my side of the desk.
But managing our own case load is just part of the work we do. Shelter’s Legal team works in offices and courts across the country advising clients on their rights and options. We actually have 30 court duty schemes where we provide emergency on-the-day representation in court to help people save their homes in times of crisis.
Beyond helping individuals, we also look for opportunities to have a positive impact at a higher level. We use law to challenge unfair practices and procedures that discriminate against the most vulnerable.
We also work with other support agencies including women’s refuges, childrens’ rights organisations, social workers, citizens advice bureaus, hostels and local authorities.
Saving someone’s home or securing a safe home for a family is often just the start for them but I like to think that if we can help get that bit right, from there it can be about building a whole new life.
Rose Firth is on the Shelter Legal Services team.
Legal aid can provide help and representation in court. Call the Civil Legal Advice helpline to see if you are eligible on 0845 345 4 345.