ON THE GROUND: Islington Schools Advice Project

Scheme: A model of service delivery that brings specialists in housing and welfare rights into Islington Schools to reach socially excluded families

Funding: Received £211,000 to cover a three-year period from the Legal Services Commission's Partnership Innovation Budget plus £77,600 in match funding from sources including the Islington Law Centre

Objectives: Reach people who slip through the net of statutory services

When Maria Mitchell heard of a family who were being refused accommodation by the local authority after being made homeless, she took swift action.

"It was the authority's legal duty to rehouse them and they were just fobbing the family off," says Mitchell, a housing adviser at the Islington Law Centre. "All it took was a couple of strongly worded letters from our legally trained staff."

Within two weeks, the centre had helped find suitable temporary accommodation for the family in need.

Since the Islington Schools Advice Project started in April, it has helped Turkish, Cypriot, Somali and Bengali families to access housing services and benefits that they were previously unaware of.

The biggest problem is overcrowding, says Mitchell. "Often there could be six or seven children living in a two-bedroom flat. We have to check that the correct processes have been followed," she says.

Families may also be victims of harassment from neighbours, be living in premises in need of repair, or be at the mercy of a slow assessment process for housing benefit.

The project is jointly operated by the Islington Law Centre, which deals with housing, and Islington People's Rights, which covers welfare rights.

Mitchell and a welfare rights adviser have held more than 100 advice sessions in primary, secondary and special needs schools across the London borough.

Families may be referred through home school support workers or education welfare workers, who may also assist in translation if necessary. The project estimates that 90 per cent of service users do not speak English as their first language, which hinders their access to statutory services.

The idea of providing advice sessions through schools recognises that all parents will have some contact with their child's place of education. Parents waiting in the playground are also starting to spread the word about the services on offer.

Most importantly, school support workers often pick up on troubles at home. Mitchell says: "We are delighted to be able to work with local schools, to complement the work they are undertaking to support families in overcoming multiple problems."

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