Council taken to court over funding decision

Hammersmith and Fulham council's decision to slash its grant to a local law centre by 60 per cent is to be challenged in the high court. Three residents of the London borough have brought the proceedings against the Conservative-led council, which decided earlier this year to reduce the centre's funding from £261,000 per year to £102,000.

According to the claimants, the decision was made with less than two weeks notice and with no opportunity for representations to be made. They say no reasons were given, despite the fact that council officers recently rated the service ‘best value’ and assessed the centre’s current grant application as a 95 per cent fit with the council’s own funding criteria.

Earlier this year the centre, which has been funded by the council for 28 years, accused the council of cutting its funding because it occasionally sues the authority on behalf of vulnerable clients. The council denied the allegations, saying legal and welfare advice services receive a large proportion of its grant funding.

The residents, who have applied for a ‘fast track’ order for the case to be heard urgently, have all been helped by the centre. They will argue that the council's decision was unlawful because they failed to carry out any proper consultation. They will also claim the council's decision-making process in reducing the priority given to immigration advice was in breach of its duties under the Race Relations Act 1976.

Sue Willman, solicitor for the claimants, said: “This cut will reduce access to justice for Hammersmith residents, especially those who are disadavantaged and most in need of legal advice at a time when legal aid is already in short supply.”

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