Tabitha Kassem from Network Homes details the legal support workshops that were trialled at Network Homes, where our Social Value Calculator helped to present the worth and impact.
The current social, economic and political climate is uncertain, from the divisive storm cloud of Brexit to the ongoing impact of austerity and welfare reform. Cuts to Legal Aid and other support services have seen the demand increase for free legal advice. A LawWorks report found that from 2015 to 2016 there was a 24% increase in the number of people visiting their clinics. The vast majority of these reported a household income of less than £17,000, a majority were BAME, and approximately 30% identified as having a disability – access to justice issues are disproportionately affecting society’s most vulnerable.
Housing associations witness this struggle from the frontline. We must try new things to help improve the lives of residents and vulnerable people.
I joined Network Homes in April 2016, a housing association based in Wembley working to provide affordable homes across London and the South East. Having previously worked as a solicitor in private practice and in the charitable sector, I knew residents needed access to legal advice and so set up free legal advice clinics.
As a social housing provider, we believe good homes make everything possible. Living in a Network Homes property gives our residents access to a variety of free services such as welfare, benefit and pension advice, financial and digital inclusion, training and access to employment services. Free legal clinics are just another way we support our residents.
Residents registered an interest explaining what their legal issue was and an appointment with a legal representative was then arranged, who would then provide legal advice on all legal issues such as family, immigration, criminal and employment (to make sure there was no conflict of interest, we didn’t deal with housing issues).
Like any law centre, we aim to provide a valuable service to some of those who need advice the most. We used our contacts within the legal sector to give our residents time with a solicitor. We’re lucky that all the solicitors and other legally qualified people involved gave up their time pro bono. If cases were found to have merit, solicitors could discuss what further representation was needed and progress matters, independent of Network Homes.
Legal advice clinics can make a real difference for those in need. Even if the legal issue is not solved at the clinic, residents are able to feel some relief from being able to speak to a professional. LawWorks found that 81% of people attending legal clinics felt less stressed afterwards. For Network Homes, we aim to give our customers first class customer service, and being able to directly reduce their stress levels really helps us to go above and beyond for our residents. Through the clinics we were also able to signpost to other organisations for further support, so residents may be able to get support on non-legal issues too.
From a pilot of six sessions, the take-up and success of our clinics was positive. We were able to help six residents get representation from a solicitor, plus another 13 were either referred to solicitors, or referred to other organisations offering legal advice.
Investors and organisations want numbers - projections for success, financial outputs and ideas with a track record of proven results. The HACT Social Value Calculator is a perfect example of both a symptom and remedy of this, allowing social value to be translated into financial terms and giving social projects a platform to prove their worth. We are in dialogue with HACT Value to refine our approach and capture impact effectively. Next time, we will be trialling other ways to make sure our contact doesn’t end!
As a housing association with charitable objects, we must find solutions that are cost effective, and we need to keep up with other commercial businesses, balancing our commercial head against our charitable heart. Free legal clinics allow us to provide a useful service which offers value for money. And other housing associations can follow suit. You can visit the LawWorks website for more details on support available. Housing associations have opportunities to utilise social value opportunities with commercial partners, at the point of procurement, but also to monitor success throughout the life of the contract.
Going forward, I believe there is an opportunity to pool resources among similar organisations. This could be using local spaces across London, a unified marketing approach to a wider pool of stakeholders, or sharing contacts and expertise as ways of building on our previous legal advice clinics efforts. I invite you to get in touch if you think this is something that your organisation might be able to support or help deliver.