We are pleased to announce that article below features in a two-page spread by Julia Baskerville in this month’s Law Society Messenger, and we will have our own monthly column from December onwards.
Greater Manchester Law Centre opened its doors in Moss Side in August 2016 and was officially ‘launched’ in February 2017. The Law Centre fills a much need gap in the provision of free legal advice and representation in Greater Manchester. Prior to the launch of GMLC there were just two small law centres in Bury and Rochdale.
Up until 2014 there had been South Manchester Law Centre which was set up in 1975, but despite a huge campaign and two successful Judicial Reviews, the centre was closed down in 2014 due to budget cuts and problems with Legal Aid funding.
After the closure of South Manchester Law Centre a group of legal aid lawyers, trade unionists and community groups and community advice organisations started a new campaign to establish a community law centre for Greater Manchester. However, the aim was not just to provide free legal advice, but also to be a platform for campaigning for change. A well-attended public meeting confirmed the view that a law centre was desperately need in Manchester and iin the months that followed funding and premises on Princess Road, Moss Side were secured.
Since the launch of the GMLC just over two years ago the volunteer benefits advisers and local law students have regained over £1 million in entitlements which the DWP had refused to give people in Greater Manchester. This is without any legal aid funding from the Legal Aid Agency or otherwise; although this is clearly work worthy of public funding.
GMLC employs a supervising solicitor; Ngaryan Li, Kathleen Cosgrove, a housing solicitor and Siobhan Taylor-Ward; a trainee solicitor, along with two development managers Roz Burgin and Astrid Johnson who job share. They are supported by a team of 56 volunteers who work on reception and front of house, volunteer advisors on welfare benefits applications, translators, fundraisers and campaigners.
GMLC is also supported with a team of law student volunteers from Manchester Metropolitan University and more recently the University of Manchester who organise law student representation at tribunal appeals for their clients.
The work of GMLC focuses on the needs of people who are unable to access support anywhere else. Face-to-face advice is particularly important for those who are vulnerable and cannot necessarily access information over the internet – or afford to pay for a lawyer. The centre offers advice across the whole spectrum of welfare benefits including advice and assistance to those who have been declined Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and advice on Employment & Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit for people who have ‘limited capability for work’. GMLC also offers advice on Universal Credit for those transferring from ESA.
In addition, GMLC offers employment advice and to date has assisted 93 employees, with a range of problems including unlawful deductions from their wages, unfair dismissal and race/sex/religious discrimination.
Specialist housing solicitor Kathleen Cosgrove joined the GMLC team in August and offers advice on a wide range of housing issues, including possession claims, disrepair, homelessness and rehousing options.
In September, Kathleen provided legal advice to members of the renters union ACORN, who were having difficulties in their block of flats in Moss Side. These tenants were organising together to challenge various problems with their fees,
contracts and security. GMLC were able to advise on their rights and they went on to produce a demands letter and organise publicity actions, winning a number of concessions for the tenants. GMLC pride themselves on offering their specialist expertise to community groups and campaigns.
GMLC does not offer immigration advice, but works closely with the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU). In a recent case GMLC and the GMIAU worked together to represent a client whose benefits were not only stopped by the Department of Work and Pensions, but they demanded 7 years’ worth of benefits of over £30,000, back from him. The reason was that he was wrongly classified as having no leave to remain by the Home Office, another example that has come to light affecting the Windrush generation and shows the burden it puts on victims and their families.
Ngaryan, GMLC’s supervising solicitor says that clearly one biggest issues in Greater Manchester is homelessness and statistics show that early legal advice is vital to prevent the issues escalating and becoming a bigger problem.
GMLC has a two-fold purpose. Firstly they offer free legal advice and assistance to those most in need, but equally as important is their campaign for change; for legal aid; for social welfare lawyers and for access to justice. Roz Burgin is one of GMLC’s development managers. Roz is currently studying the BPTC and plans to become a barrister. She says “This is the reason we exist: we should be a voice for change for the people we are working with. We fight to change the policy and legislation that brings people to us in the first place.”
GMLC want to see the restoration of legal aid and are committed to challenging injustices in legislation and welfare policy.
GMLC is tireless in its campaign on the issue of homelessness. In 2017, The Manchester Evening News reported the scale of the problem, revealing that there over 3,000 people sleeping rough on its streets. More figures released in January 2018 by The Guardian revealed that homelessness in Manchester had risen by 41% over the previous year.
Legal safeguards from homelessness do exist but often fall short, and gaps in the law can leave many in vulnerable positions. This is felt particularly harshly by migrants. Whilst assessing the causes of homelessness, it is important to recognise that the lack of support for legal aid and supportive charities has only worsened the issue. With the continued rise in a shortage of affordable accommodation, homelessness in Greater Manchester will continue to rise and more people will need legal advice and assistance.
How you can help
GMLC has had financial support from charitable trusts, including AB Charitable Trust, Legal Education Foundation and Tudor Trust. The trainee solicitor role is funded by the Justice First Fellowship. However GMLC needs funds to continue
to sup port the growing number of often vulnerable clients who are unable to pay for legal services and to support the next generation of social welfare lawyers.
Dianne Lai is one of GMLC’s fundraising volunteers. She says “Securing more funding is vital for the continuing success of the law centre and maintaining access to justice for those most in need. To stay open, we need 200 more people to commit to donating £20 a month. Alternatively firms could nominate GMLC as their charity of the year or become a GMLC Corporate Sponsorship Partner.”
If you wish to become involved, either a volunteer or want to make a donation then contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.gmlaw.org.uk
From next month the Greater Manchester Law Centre will have a regular column in the Messenger.
A young man with learning disabilities, who was born overseas but lives in the UK with his British father, was refused Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for not being able to show he had a ‘right to reside’. The young man’s support worker had been trying to work with the Department of Work and Pensions to resolve the matter for nearly a year when they contacted Greater Manchester Law Centre.
GMLC volunteer advisers worked with them to collect the paperwork needed to demonstrate the young man’s right to reside. The Department of Work and Pensions accepted this evidence and awarded the young man almost £10,000 in
back payments for the ESA he was entitled to.
Mr A is a Sierra Leone national, born in the mid 50’s, who came to the UK in 1970 when he was 15 years old. He arrived to join his parents and has the passport he arrived on which is endorsed with an entry certificate ‘to join parents’ and no restrictions on entry.
He was in receipt of benefits but had this stopped in 2016 because he was deemed to have no status in the UK. He then received a decision from the DWP seeking to recover all the benefits paid to him since 2009, adding up to a total
of over £30,000. This was in April 2016.
These decisions were made by the DWP on the basis that they had contacted the Home Office to find out whether Mr A was entitled to benefits and had been told, in March 2016, that Mr A ‘had no leave to remain in the UK’. Since his arrival Mr A had no contact with the Home Office, so they would have no records of his existence on their system.
The DWP would, in particular, have no proof of his entry to the UK as his landing card would have been one of those destroyed by the Home Office in 2010. The Home Office also did not contact Mr A at any stage to find out about his history, so it is clear that they automatically classified him as having ‘no status’ because he was not on their system.
This wrong classification has directly led to Mr A having no income and consequently no accommodation since April 2016 and having to live with the stress of owing over £30,000 in benefits plus a possible criminal charge for defrauding the benefits system. In the meantime, he was supported
by his family.
GMLC appealed against the decisions that he owed this money and the DWP confirmed at an initial hearing that their decision was solely based on the Home Office response that he had no status.
He then applied for, and was granted, a permanent stay card under the ‘Windrush’ procedure.
The DWP have just recently confirmed that they are withdrawing their decision given that he has received his ILR card.
Not only was Mr A relieved of the pressure of having to pay back a vast amount of money, but the fight for his rights by GMIAU and GMLC resulted in him receiving in July this year £8,041.01 in back dated benefits.
was very unwell and claimed Income Support as a single person, even though she had been married since 2002. This is because the client’s husband was not a British national and had no recourse to public funds.
One day, the benefit agency demanded £20,000 from the client in repayments. They stated that our client had unlawfully claimed benefits for her husband, even though she had declared that he was fighting his immigration status and not
entitled to public funds.
After many years of fighting, the couple resolved his immigration status through the courts. However, they were still being asked to repay £20,000 in benefits, and they couldn’t afford a lawyer to argue their case. The Greater Manchester
Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) referred them to us for support.
We assisted them and were successful in appealing against an overpayment of Income Support amounting to £16,381.29, and an overpayment of ESA of £3,834.25.
Free of the repayments and with established immigration status, the couple were free to begin again in getting the Income Support they needed.