Hammersmith funding cut challenge fails

Three west London residents have failed in their High Court bid to overturn a decision by Hammersmith & Fulham Council to slash funding to a local law centre after the judge described their case as "unarguable".

The case was brought after the Conservative-led council decided earlier this year to reduce the funding of Hammersmith and Fulham Community Law Centre from £261,000 per year to £102,000.

The three claimants, who have all benefited from the law centre’s advice, argued that the council’s procedures had been flawed because the decision had been taken too quickly, leaving no opportunity for representations to be made, and the council had given no reason for its decision.

However, the judge said that if the law centre had been unhappy with the process it should have challenged it from the outset and should not have sent the council a 70-page application form explaining how it met new criteria. He found in favour of the council and ordered the claimants to pay for the costs of the council’s written defence.

One of the claimants, Yasmin Pettigrew, said she feared the impact of the cuts would be devastating, but was happy that more people now knew about the issue. “If the case has highlighted the policies coming out of the town hall, I will consider it a resounding success,” she said.

Councillor Antony Lillis, Hammersmith & Fulham’s cabinet member for community and children’s services, said the case was a victory not just for the council but also for the voluntary sector in the borough, because more than £2m of council funding promised to local groups had been on hold for the duration of the case, but could now be released.

“The cloud of uncertainty that has hung over the 58 groups promised funding, including 16 newly funded ones, has now been rightfully lifted,” he said. It was time for everyone to move on, he added. “This includes the law centre, which has been awarded the ninth biggest grant overall.”

Penelope Harrison, chief executive of the Hammersmith and Fulham Community and Voluntary Sector Association, said the organisations that had been caught up in the funding freeze would be relieved that the grant payments could now go ahead.

“The association would defend the right of anyone to make a legal challenge where they perceive an injustice, but the unintended consequences of this case have had a destabilising effect on the sector as a whole,” she said.

The law centre had alleged that the funding cut was politically motivated 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.

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