TOWER HAMLETS LAW CENTRE Annual Review 2007-2008

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TOWER HAMLETS LAW CENTRE Annual Review 2007-2008

TOWER HAMLETS LAW CENTRE

Annual Review 2007-2008

LEGAL ADVICE AT THE HEART OF THE COMMUNITY


This annual review can be made available in alternative

formats on request. See back cover for contact details

Objectives and Activities

The Law Centres principle aims are:

To develop independent Law Centre services for the people of

Tower Hamlets and East London.

To provide access to justice and to facilitate the awareness of

legal rights, particularly targeting the most disadvantaged

members of the community.

The main objectives and activities for the year continued to

focus on the following:

Delivery of specialist legal advice for those most disadvantaged in

the local community.

Provision of second tier support and advice for other generalist

advice agencies in Tower Hamlets.

Delivery of community education work to raise awareness of legal

rights amongst local people.

Development of new Legal Advice Services where there is a real

gap in provision, in partnership with other advice providers.

In order to maintain the integrity of our work despite external

pressure, we have also re-developed our organisational values

which are as follows:

We believe everyone should have access to justice through

quality specialist legal advice.

We believe in equal opportunities for all in providing free advice

to those who cannot afford to pay for it, regardless of their race,

gender, ability / disability, sexuality, age or religious belief.

We believe in prioritising our service where appropriate,

particularly to those who are socially excluded and vulnerable.

We believe in empowering people by raising awareness of their

rights.

We believe we should at all times, challenge bad practice,

exclusion and inequality.

We hold ourselves accountable to the community that we serve.

Contents

Chair’s report . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

Specialist advice services

Housing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

Immigration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

Welfare Benefits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

Employment & Discrimination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

Reception, referral, networking and community work

Tower Hamlets Community Advice Network . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

Reception & referral services, stats and facts . . . . . . . . . . 16

Financial review

Financial activity and balance sheet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

Thanks & Acknowledgements

Management Committee . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

Probono assistance, volunteers and funders . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

Staff . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

Law Centre opening times . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

2 Annual Review 2007-2008

Design and layout Dermot Morrow


CHAIR’S REPORT

I am delighted to once again invite you to consider the

annual review for Tower Hamlets Law Centre for the period

2007-8. The Law Centre has been providing free legal

advice since 1969 but this last year has been extremely

challenging for the voluntary sector in general and for Law

Centres in particular.

We have seen many Law Centres across the UK close

as statutory authorities are unable to sustain existing

funding levels for the provision of free legal help and

contracts are awarded to private companies.

This has been a trend that has pre-dated the “credit

crunch” and the changes to the Legal Service Commission

contract in October 2007 and the introduction of highly

competitive large scale tendering for contracts (which tend

to favour large private practice firms over smaller not for

profit agencies) has also adversely effected how successful

we can be in tendering for new work.

These are worrying times for us but we are determined

that the needs of our clients in one of the poorest and most

diverse areas of the United Kingdom will continue to be our

priority as we consider whether we can take on funding

contracts.

We must thank all of our skilled staff and dedicated

volunteers who despite the difficulties and challenges that

we face continue to provide an excellent service to people

seeking specialist legal advice and who continue to strive

and innovate to ensure the survival of the centre and its

services.

We have new and exciting projects that have started this

year; the Tower Hamlets Community Advice Network

funded by Advice Plus / Big Lottery Fund, a new

Employment and Discrimination group that works across

East London (funded by the EHRC and London Councils)

and the consolidation of services to young homeless people

and children and young people facing difficulties with their

education (funded by London Councils) and we are partners

in other exciting initiatives. This development work has

been supported by the Big Lottery and the London Legal

Support Trust.

We continue to seek new members of our management

committee who can give us the perspective of the different

groups of people that we aim to help, such as young people,

people with disabilities and people from minority

communities. We also seek board members with particular

skills that will assist the expansion of the business side of

the Law Centre. If you are interested please get in touch

with Sue Brown, the Centre Manager (email

s.brown@thlc.co.uk or telephone 020 7375 7135).

Our Senior Solicitor, Bolaji Bishi, has been dedicated in

ensuring the smooth running of the centre through a period

of change and we would like to thank all the staff for being

flexible and adaptable in meeting the new demands that are

placed upon them, ensuring that our service remains of a

high standard at a time of great change.

A big thank you to our funders and to the individuals that

kindly make donations both in terms of financial support and

the gift of time and resources to support the work of the

centre.

Last but not least I thank my fellow trustees who have

given their time on a voluntary basis to take legal

responsibility for the overall management and decisions of

the Law Centre.

Derek Cox

Chair

Sue Brown

Centre Manager

Bolaji Bishi

Senior Solicitor

Tower Hamlets Law Centre

3


HOUSING

Clockwise from top left:

Lou Crisfield (Acting Supervisor),

Sherina Kabir, Philip Cridge, Nicola Dean

(Supervisor on maternity leave during

2008), Baljit Dod, Maria Mitchell

The Housing group has had a challenging year dealing with

the changes brought in by fixed fees and the launch of our

youth homeless project. In our casework, we continued to

concentrate on the areas of homelessness, allocations,

possession, domestic violence, disrepair and security of

tenure.

London Councils has funded us to provide an outreach

service for young people who are at risk of homelessness

in 5 East London Boroughs. The Housing team is providing

outreach sessions at young people’s centres in Barking &

Dagenham, Redbridge, Newham, Havering and Tower

Hamlets.

The take up of this service has grown as we have

achieved successful outcomes for young people, and these

outcomes have generated further referrals. The team have

undertaken extensive training specific to working with young

people and in relation to the Children Act and Children

Leaving Care Act so that we can properly advise this new

client group.

The project has been very exciting and we have been

achieving some really positive results. Our client’s cases

have shown us that it is all too easy for public authorities to

ignore their duties towards vulnerable young people, as

they often have no idea what they are entitled to and are

very unlikely to access legal advice in the normal way (e.g.

by making an appointment with a private solicitor or law

centre).

The Housing group spent a large proportion of its time

on homelessness cases. We work on individual cases

throughout the application, decision, and if necessary

review and appeal stages. The most intensive work now

tends to be needed right at the beginning of a case as many

clients are having real difficulties getting their applications

taken at all. “Front loading” cases by making full and

thorough representations when a person first applies to the

council because they are homeless, means that we can

often avoid problems with poor decisions being made later.

Although this strategy leads to good outcomes for our

clients, it does not fit well into the fixed fee culture. It is

extremely rare for a homeless case to take less than the 3

hours that the LSC pays for housing cases. Most will take

at least double that time, and a significant proportion will

take four or five times longer.

We continue to attend various forums where we meet

with the Council and other partner agencies to try to

influence policy and practice at the Homeless Services

Department. Our views, which are based on the experience

of our clients, have been taken seriously and at times

incorporated into policy and practice.

We advise and represent clients who are facing

possession proceedings both at an early stage and after a

notice of eviction has been received, and have prevented

eviction in the vast majority of cases. Cases range from

straight-forward rent arrears cases to more complex matters

involving counterclaims for disrepair and cases raising

complex procedural and public law issues.

The group has continued to develop its expertise in this

area over the last year. All members of the group have been

involved in litigation concerning disrepair, and we have

secured over £35,000 in compensation for our clients, as

well as getting necessary repairs carried out.

We have continued to advise local residents who need

to move because they are overcrowded or have medical

problems which are made worse by their current home. We

also advise people who need urgent moves because of

violence or harassment. We have started a monthly drop in

4 Annual Review 2007-2008


specialist advice services

session for lettings queries in recognition

of the fact that getting a transfer is an

important issue for many of those living

in the local community.

The group has been involved in

devising, preparing and delivering a large

number of training sessions / events this

year including housing courses for the

Safe Exit Forum, and Toynbee Hall, a

series of courses for a local volunteer

project, a making effective homelessness

applications seminar and a course on

homelessness and a course on

allocations for front line agencies across

the borough.

The group continues to co-ordinate

and provide workers for the Bow County

Court duty adviser scheme. We often

take cases on after the initial advice,

particularly where a defence needs to be

filed, or backdated housing benefit needs

to be obtained.

The scheme provides an invaluable

service to, often, very vulnerable and

chaotic tenants who are at risk of losing

their homes. We are normally able to

avoid a court order being made on the

day, either obtaining an adjournment so

that further steps can be taken before the

case comes to trial or a dismissal if there

are defects in the claim itself.

Case study :: POSSESSION

We saw a young woman who was living

in a supported housing scheme for young

people. The scheme had obtained a

possession order against her. The

scheme claimed they had taken the

proceedings because the young woman

was in rent arrears and wasn’t attending

training and information sessions

provided by the scheme, in breach of her

tenancy.

After obtaining her tenancy file and

housing benefit files, we realised that she

had not been properly supported or

advised in making her benefit

applications and was eligible for

backdated benefit which would wipe out

the rent arrears. The file showed that she

had, in fact, attended a number of the

training and information sessions. It was

also clear that she had never been told

about her right to appeal to the scheme’s

manager against the decision to take her

to court.

We put these issues to the landlord

and invited them to withdraw the

possession order. When they refused,

we threatened to take the matter to a

Judicial Review. At this point the landlord

agreed not to enforce the order and to

allow our client to remain in her home.

Case study :: HOMELESSNESS

We advised a 17 year old client who

lived with his aunt, on whom he relied for

support and guidance, having had a very

troubled past. She lived in a housing

association property that she paid for by

working as a care worker, but was

evicted when the landlord had to

demolish it for redevelopment. We

advised our client to apply as homeless

and ask the council to house him,

together with his aunt. The aunt could

not apply in her own right because of her

immigration status.

The council initially refused to accept

the application, saying that a 17 year old

only has priority need if they live alone.

Eventually they agreed to house our

client, but only in accommodation where

it would be a breach of the tenancy rules

to have his aunt living with him.

We took the case to Judicial Review.

The court ruled that the Council must

provide both our client and his aunt with

suitable accommodation together.

“it is sad that it

is necessary to

have lawyers to

achieve your

basic rights.

If I hadn’t had

your help I think

me and my boy

would not have a

home. Very

grateful”

Client feedback

Tower Hamlets Law Centre 5


IMMIGRATION

Clockwise from top left:

Baljit Dod (Supervisor),

Melanie Tumbokon,

Habib Rahman, Bolaji Bishi

The past year has seen many changes in the area of

Immigration law, which will affect migration into the UK for

our client group, as well as changes in the way our work

has been funded by the Legal Services Commission.

Significantly changes in the immigration rules have been

made to introduce mandatory refusals for 1, 5 or 10 years

for some overstayer/illegal entrants who go on to make

entry clearance applications depending on the way they left

the country and those who have or are found to have used

false documents in applications. At the same time without

warning the Home Office also revoked the DP2/93 and

DP3/96 policies which enabled overstayers/illegal entrants

whose marriages had not come to the attention of the Home

Office for 2 years before enforcement action was taken to

avoid enforcement action in certain circumstances.

The Home Office are also in the process of phasing in a

new points based scheme which will replace many of the

categories under the immigration rules such as work

permits, the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, students

and working holiday makers to name a few. This scheme

does rely on granting points to those applicants showing

they have the funds to support themselves and their

dependents, which will of course be difficult for many

applicants from the Indian subcontinent.

Over the year we have seen many of our clients

continue to struggle to meet the difficult requirements

imposed in previous changes in the law and increase in

fees. Many clients in the UK on a spouse visa have not

been able to meet the English language requirement by the

time their 2 year leave to remain expires which forces them

into the position of having to apply for further leave to

remain instead of indefinite leave to remain, and they are

forced to pay a separate fee for a further leave to remain

application and then again when they are in a position to

apply for indefinite leave to remain. Many clients also

continue to struggle to pay the Home Office fees, which

have gone up in some categories by 100%, particularly

domestic violence victims for whom the Home Office are

increasingly refusing to waive the fee unless they are

destitute, often victims of domestic violence are forced to

delay making applications until the fee can be found.

The Legal Services Commission remains our major

funder at this time; however there have been significant

changes in the funding with the introduction of fixed fees

per case and a restriction on the number of cases that we

can take on under the fixed fee regime. Demand for

immigration advice has remained strong and the demand

has outweighed our matter starts which has limited the

number of clients that we can take on,

Our funding with City Parochial has continue to allow

us to deal with the particularly vulnerable domestic violence

victims client group whose cases often require greater

investigation and preparation. Our service level agreement

with Tower Hamlets Council allows us to continue to work

closely with local support agencies and offer second-tier

advice as well as delivering training.

Despite all the above changes we are committed to

continue to deal with a wide variety of immigration,

nationality and asylum cases at all levels both from within

and outside of the UK, and we envisage that we will be as

busy as we were over the last year and that we will continue

to benefit our clients.

6 Annual Review 2007-2008


specialist advice services

Case study :: DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND HUMAN

RIGHTS

X is a Bangladeshi national and came to the UK on a 2-

years spouse visa to join her husband. Their son was born

in the UK. On arrival X lived with her husband his parents

and siblings. X was soon subjected to violence by her

husband and his family and was rescued from the

matrimonial home by her brother after a particular incident

when her husband strangled her and almost killed her. X’s

application for settlement on the grounds of domestic

violence was refused by the Home Office because of

insufficient evidence to corroborate her claim and her leave

to remain was curtailed by the Home. Although X appealed

against the Home Office’s decision she was persuaded to

reconcile with her husband on the condition that the

domestic violence would stop and she therefore withdrew

the appeal. However the abuse started again and X was

rescued by her brother at which point she suffered a mental

breakdown as a result and was hospitalised for several

months. The Law Centre made a second application to the

Home Office for settlement and X was also able to obtain an

Injunction and a Prohibited Steps Order against her

husband for subjecting her to harassment and threatening

behaviour after she left the matrimonial home. The Home

Office refused the application again as X’s credibility was

questioned because she returned to the matrimonial home.

At the appeal the Immigration Judge allowed the case on

the grounds of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 due

to the network of support for X and her son, which had

contributed greatly to her recovering from her mental

breakdown which he believed her mental state would suffer

if she were returned to Bangladesh, without a network of

support, especially since she has suicidal tendencies and

had self-harmed in the past. In addition, because of the

family bond that has developed between X, her son, her

brother and his family, the Judge felt that it would be

impossible to continue the same family bond that has been

built up between them. The Judge believed that the client

has established a private and family life in the UK, and to

remove her to Bangladesh would be in breach of those

rights. The Home Office did not appeal against the Judge’s

decision and granted X Discretionary Leave to Remain for

a period of 3 years.

Case Study :: CHALLENGING JUDGEMENTS

Y entered the UK as a spouse, the marriage ended due to

Domestic Violence within the two year probationary spouse

visa. Her husband wrote to Home Office (HO) and informed

them that the marriage was no longer subsisting and the

HO curtailed her leave. Y appealed the decision on the

basis that the HO curtailed leave without adequate

consideration of her claim that she was the victim of

domestic violence (DV). The appeal hearing was set within

three weeks and the Law Centre requested an adjournment

to gather evidence of DV. The Tribunal refused to grant an

adjournment on the basis that DV would not be dealt with at

the appeal as it had not been raised before the Home

Office. The Home office refused to deal with the DV until

Y’s appeal had been heard. At the hearing, the Judge went

on to find that there was no evidence of DV and dismissed

the appeal. The Law Centre applied for Reconsideration

on the grounds that the Judge had erred in law by first failing

to accept DV as a live issue and then stating that there was

no evidence of DV when clearly Y had provided a statement

about the DV she had suffered. The original decision was

overturned and the Home Office granted Y Indefinite Leave

to Remain.

“the only

comment is to say

that the service

I received was

truly excellent

in all ways...I

am tremendously

grateful”

Client feedback

Tower Hamlets Law Centre

7


WELFARE BENEFITS

Clockwise from top left:

Chris Parsons (Supervisor),

Shahnaz Sikondari, Amina Ali,

John Mahoney, Ellenor Hutson (locum),

Prabhjit Soomal

We are Chris Parsons, Shahnaz Sikondari, Prabhjit Soomal

and Amina Ali. This year has seen the Benefits team

continue to achieve some great results for our clients in

terms of the financial outcomes of our casework. Hundreds

of people who had been refused benefits through

administrative errors, or through misunderstanding of the

law by the staff at social security offices, have now been

awarded benefit after our intervention. Hundreds more have

had their rate of benefit increased. We have represented

clients at over 150 appeal tribunals in the last twelve

months.

One of the more common problems raised by clients this

year has been Tax Credit overpayments, and we have been

able to persuade the Tax Credit Office that in most cases

these overpayments were not the fault of the claimant and

so should not have to be paid back. This year also marked

the transfer of the ‘local’ benefits processing office for a

large part of the borough from Hackney to an office in

Lancashire, and we did a lot of work helping clients whose

benefits payments were interrupted as a consequence.

We are still working closely with the social services

department of the Council to give advice to disabled and

long-term ill people about their benefits, and we are

continuing to offer advice in Somali and Bengali for those

who are not fluent in English. We meet regularly with

managers at the Housing Benefit and Jobcentre Plus offices

to bring issues of concern to their attention and our free

training courses for staff at voluntary sector advice agencies

in the borough have been more popular than ever.

During the last twelve months there has been an

increase in the number of cases referred to us by other

organisations for ‘specialist level’ casework. The increase

probably reflects the increasingly difficult funding climate for

advice agencies following Government reforms last year.

Some agencies cannot afford the time needed to work on a

complex case or to prepare a case for a tribunal so they

pass the case to us. As an alternative to making a referral,

we also offer local organisations free second-tier telephone

support, allowing their staff to get advice from our Benefits

team which they can pass on to their clients.

8 Annual Review 2007-2008


specialist advice services

Case Studies

We advised a 77 year old Afro-Caribbean widow who had

applied for Attendance Allowance for the first time and had

been refused. She had experienced a sudden deterioration

in her health, which had resulted in her daughter having to

help her every day. She suffered with osteoarthritis in both

knees, rheumatoid arthritis in her arms and hands resulting

in tremors, glaucoma and a hearing impairment.

We made a late appeal against the decision and

represented her at a tribunal. The tribunal accepted our

arguments and she won the appeal. She received an

arrears payment of £1800 and a further £2,300 a year in

ongoing benefit for the next three years. The outcome

made a difference to her quality of life

An 83 year old Somali man resident in the UK stopped

receiving his Retirement Pension because he had become

very ill whilst in Somalia, and was not able to return to the

UK for a long time. The Pension Service were wrongly

informed that the gentleman had died while he was in

Somalia and so they stopped his Retirement Pension.

On returning to the UK he sought our advise. We were able

to persuade the Pension Service that our client was owed

arrears for all the time he had been abroad. He received

£9,986 in Retirement Pension arrears and also received

new weekly entitlements to Attendance Allowance and

Pension Credit.

A Bangladeshi pensioner was granted discretionary leave

to remain in the UK for 3 years and her daughter sought

advice as to whether her mother could claim any

benefit. The advice agency she spoke to told her that she

couldn’t. However we advised her that because her mother

had been granted discretionary leave for 3 years, which

would be extended for a further 3 years, and that after 6

years of discretionary leave she could apply for indefinite

leave, she was therefore entitled to claim Pension Credit.

Since she already had a delay of one year due to the

misadvice she had received, we argued with the Pension

Service for backdating, and assisted her with the claim by

arranging a visit to expedite her claim. Mrs Bibi was

awarded £119 per week from the date of her claim and

arrears of Pension Credit amounting to £6,135.

A young British couple on low wages were surprised to

suddenly be presented with a demand from the Tax Credit

Office that they repay over £10,000 in tax credit which they

had received three years ago. The Tax Credit Office argued

that they had failed to inform them about a change in their

circumstances at the time. In fact they had written by

recorded delivery to the Tax Credit Office to tell them, and

still had the recorded delivery ‘slip’, but because it was now

three years ago it was no longer possible to get proof from

the Royal Mail that their letter had been delivered safely.

We helped the couple to dispute the overpayment with the

Tax Credit Office, and when that dispute was unsuccessful

we complained to the HM Revenue & Customs Adjudicator

arguing that the Tax Credit Office had been unreasonable

in refusing to accept the possibility of error by themselves.

The Adjudicator investigated and upheld the complaint, so

the overpayment was ‘written off’ and did not have to be

repaid.

“I was handled

fairly and without

prejudice.

I would not

hesitate to

recommend

THLC’s services”

Client feedback

Tower Hamlets Law Centre 9


EDUCATION

Clockwise from top left:

Janata Ali (Supervisor),

Misha Pearson-Muir,

Tazrad Grey, Ugo Hayter

The East London Education Legal Advice Service

(ELELAS) has been set up to provide specialist legal advice

in the field of Education Law for communities across six

boroughs in East London. We undertake casework covering

exclusions, admissions and admissions appeals, Special

Educational Needs, Disability Discrimination, Further and

Higher education, bullying, complaints against schools,

Local Education Authority’s etc. The Education group also

represent clients at hearings and tribunals and provide

second tier advice to voluntary and statutory organisations.

We also engage in project work, campaigning, providing

information and working in partnership with other agencies

in the following boroughs: Tower Hamlets, Hackney,

Waltham Forest, Newham, Barking and Dagenham,

Redbridge. More recently we have extended our service to

the following boroughs: Bexley, Greenwich, and Havering,

The group has undergone some changes this year.

Katja Cavalleri-Hug, the group supervisor left the Law

Centre to return to Switzerland earlier this year. The group

currently consists of Janata Ali, the full time supervisor,

Misha Pearson-Muir a full time caseworker, Tazrad Grey, a

three days per week caseworker and Ugo Hayter, a 2 days

per week caseworker.

We are working to building on contacts and referral

agencies we have established in the boroughs we work in.

We also assist some clients with more severe mobility

problems or disabilities by organising home visits.

The group provide telephone advice to advisers in other

local organisations and we also take referrals from these

organisations. We have developed strong relationships with

key referral organisations in some of the boroughs covered

and hope to build on this in some of the new boroughs we

are working in.

All group members have a wide and varied caseload. Our

strengths remain in the areas of Special Educational Needs

(SEN), exclusions, admission and children out of school

cases. We continue to work very successfully on SEN

cases that develop into special educational needs and

disability tribunal (SENDIST) cases. We have been

successful in securing independent special schools for

pupils with severe dyslexia, in getting additional 1 to 1

Learning Support for pupils, Speech and Language

Therapy and Occupational Therapy support for pupils. We

have been very successful in our appeals against Local

Authority decisions not to carry out a statutory assessment

of children with SEN.

In terms of exclusion cases, i.e. getting the exclusion

overturned and the child reinstated, success is still largely

dependent on the facts of the case. We continue to see

many children who have been excluded from school, who

suffer from Special Educational Needs, which are not

picked up or are ignored by their school. We work to get

children whose behaviour and learning is being affected by

their SEN, more support in school and possibly a statutory

assessment of their needs.

We have undertaken a significant number of admission

appeals, with some successes; again the chances of

success in these cases are dependent on the facts of the

case.

We continue to have a steady number of cases referred

to us for assistance and advice relating to a Further and

Higher Education.

10 Annual Review 2007-2008


specialist advice services

Case studies

A boy with a diagnosis of Autism was due to move to a

secondary school. The Local Authority named a school

which was very large and crowded, located near a

motorway and generally unsuitable for the child. The child

did not always understand danger and often ran out of

school and into roads. We appealed to the Special

Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) for a

change in school. Our client wanted her son to attend a

smaller school, which was away from main roads. At

appeal we were successful. The SENDIST ordered the LA

to allow the child admission to the school the parent chose.

We were able to get a child reinstated after a permanent

exclusion into Year 10, which is a crucial GCSE year. The

child was accused of taking a penknife into school and

threatening other children. After cross examination at

appeal it transpired that there were no witnesses who

actually saw the penknife. The appeal panel ordered the

school to reinstate the child back to school.

A group of parents with severely disabled children with

complex medical needs sought our advice regarding the

transport arrangement for their children to and from school.

The parents were forced to travel with their children in case

medical intervention was needed. We successfully

negotiated the provision of medically trained escorts with

the Local Authority. All children in need of a medical escort

are provided with one and the parents no longer need to

escort their children on the bus.

A Year 10 boy was wrongly accused of murder and as part

of his bail condition he had to leave his home borough. The

trial took place 2 years later where he was found not guilty.

When he returned to his home borough, the Local Authority

was still not willing to offer him a school place. With our

representation to the Local Authority we secured him a

place at a mainstream secondary school.

We were successful in admission appeals for children

who were being severely bullied, where parents had

medical problems, or the children themselves had medical

problems and needed to be admitted to a certain school.

We were successful in an admission appeal where the

father had forced his daughter to move and live with her

uncle in Birmingham. The father did this because his

daughter had truanted from school a number of times. He

then forced her to go to Birmingham. The girl’s mother had

died when she was very young and her grandmother was

her legal guardian. When her grandmother brought her

back to live with her, her school would not accept her back.

We represented her at the admission appeal and were su -

ccessful. The girl has now returned to her school and is

preparing to take her GCSE examinations.

In one higher education case our client wished to

terminate his university course outside of the 28 day

cancellation period. He was misinformed about the course

content and duration of the course. Our client was an

overseas student and his visa was due to expire. Had he

not recovered his fees urgently he would not have been

able to enrol on another course before his visa expired and

would have overstayed in the UK unlawfully. We were able

to negotiate with the University and recover his tuition fees

minus the cancellation fees. He has now enrolled on

another course.

“I was treated

well; I have

found the advice

and information

really positive,

helpful, easy to

understand”

Client feedback

Tower Hamlets Law Centre 11


EMPLOYMENT AND DISCRIMINATION

Gordon Quilty (left) and

Jacob Fabowale-Makinde

In the summer of 2008, Tower Hamlets Law Centre

established a new employment and discrimination law

advice service covering a number of East London

boroughs. The Employment and Discrimination Law Group

has two solicitors, Gordon Quilty (who works full-time) and

Jacob Fabowale-Makinde (who works 3 days a week).

We advise those who have been discriminated against

whilst living in, working in or visiting Tower Hamlets,

Hackney, Redbridge, Havering, or Barking and Dagenham.

The service covers all grounds of discrimination, namely

race, sex, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation and

age. It includes those discriminated against in employment,

education, by public authorities and in goods and services.

This service is supported with funding from the Equality and

Human Rights Commission.

We have also secured funding from the London Councils

for the provision of employment law advice and

representation more broadly through the “London Law

Centres Employment Tribunal Project”. This covers not just

discrimination, but also unfair dismissal, redundancy, wage

disputes and other employment issues. We advise those

who live or work in Tower Hamlets, Redbridge, Havering,

Newham or Barking and Dagenham.

We have advised many clients to date, on a wide range

of discrimination and more general employment law issues.

Our service includes the provision of one-off advice,

including by phone, by daytime appointment at the Centre

or through our new evening advice session (held every

fortnight on a Monday). It also covers case preparation and

will, where possible, cover representation before

Employment Tribunals and at County Court. We also

provide an outreach session on the fourth Tuesday each

month in Barking and Dagenham, based out of Disability

Action Barking & Dagenham’s (DABD) offices, a charity

providing a range of services to disadvantaged people. We

shortly hope to establish monthly outreach services in both

Havering and Hackney.

The group are, on an ongoing basis, contacting local

agencies, religious organisations, community bodies and

others in order to advertise our new service as widely as

possible across the above boroughs. We seek referrals

from any of their service users, and encourage our referral

form to be faxed to us. Alternatively they can signpost those

individuals who are in need of our service.

We also liaise with our colleagues in other departments

at the Centre, given that the areas of discrimination we

advise on can arise in the work done by all the departments.

We regularly receive queries from other departments

regarding potential discrimination suffered by their clients.

Our goals for the coming year are to continue to raise

awareness of the service and to assist even greater

numbers of people who are being discriminated against or

subjected to violations of their employment law rights.

The issues we have advised on to date cover a broad

spectrum. They include disability discrimination in the

workplace, unfair dismissals, wage disputes, redundancy,

the Working Time Regulations, etc.

12 Annual Review 2007-2008


specialist advice services

Case Studies

A client contacted us after being demoted without

warning. We advised on constructive unfair dismissal, and

assisted in drafting the resignation letter and grievance

letter. The employer shortly afterwards agreed to settle by

Compromise Agreement for a figure in excess of any

Tribunal award the client might have received if successful.

A client came to us for assistance in enforcing a Tribunal

award of over £20,000 for unfair dismissal. We advised on

the enforcement options and took steps to enforce the

award. After we sent several letters to the former employer,

our client was sent a cheque for the full amount plus

interest.

A client working in a manual role for a large company

became disabled and sought advice on disability

discrimination. We are providing ongoing advice and

representation, including on reasonable adjustments under

the Disability Discrimination Act, [and the planned dismissal

was postponed by the employer].

treated our client. Our client was reinstated to his former

contractual hours and was also paid for the weeks he was

at home.

A client working for a high street store was told not to

wear religious jewellery as it contravened the company’s

dress code. We advised that this could amount to direct

and/or indirect discrimination and assisted in preparing for

the grievance meeting. Following the meeting, the

employer withdrew their objections and allowed the

jewellery to be worn.

Our client worked for a catering firm for 2 weeks. He was

not paid his wages. We advised him of his rights. We

assisted him in raising a grievance about his unpaid wages.

The employer paid his wages after we wrote to them.

“I think you are

serving the

residents of

Tower Hamlets

well”

Our client worked for a restaurant chain that was bought

by another company. The company decided to lay off some

of the chefs without following proper redundancy procedure.

The company also varied the contractual hours of our client.

We helped our client raise a grievance about the way his

contract has been varied by the company without his

consent. He was also not earning any income for 3 weeks

that he was waiting for the company to decide on what they

were going to do with their staff. We wrote to the company

outlining our concerns about the way the company has

Client feedback

Tower Hamlets Law Centre 13


TOWER HAMLETS

COMMUNITY ADVICE NETWORK

Heather Johnson

THCAN Manager

Mission

The Tower Hamlets Community Advice Network (THCAN)

exists to increase the early intervention on issues through

appropriate quality advice that enables disadvantaged

individuals and communities to achieve their rights and

responsibilities.

This statement encompasses the whole concept of the

Tower Hamlets Community Advice Network, which is to

ensure effective, high quality, sustainable advice provision

across the whole borough through joint working and formal

partnerships. The main drivers for the development of a

partnership approach to advice provision in the borough are

the intentions of the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and

Tower Hamlets Council (LBTH) to commission advice

services on an area basis, and possibly jointly, in future.

The project to develop the network is funded by the Big

Lottery as part of its Advice Plus programme. Whilst Tower

Hamlets Law Centre is the lead partner in this project, the

work is directed by a steering group made up of a number

of advice agencies operating across the borough. This core

network of advice agencies is a continuation of the

Community Legal Services Partnership which, unlike in

many areas, was sustained in Tower Hamlets when the

LSC withdrew from its role as facilitator. The early strength

of this network was behind the successful bid to the Big

Lottery funding.

The THCAN team consists of three Link Advisers and

the Link Manager, whose roles are to facilitate the aims of

the project. The Link Advisers will each complete

placements of six months duration, rotating around the

partner organisations. The three Link Advisers started their

first placements in May 2008 and moved to their second

placement in November. In addition to providing a generalist

advice resource to the host agency, they will be helping to

develop best practice and innovative projects to build

capacity, testing joint approaches to infrastructure needs

and improving links between agencies.

In order to achieve the aims of the project, THCAN will

have to ensure that all the agencies involved have suitable

mechanisms to measure and achieve a high quality

standard in advice giving, develop monitoring and

evaluation systems that can be accessed in such a way as

to provide reports across the partnership for different

funders, a joint referral system that ensures clients receive

the best advice in the most appropriate location and a legal

partnership agreement, joint venture vehicle, a separate

charitable company etc., that is flexible enough to work

within different funding streams and guarantee the delivery

of services required.

We also envisage ‘branding’ and ‘marketing’ THCAN so

that it becomes associated in the eyes of the public and

funding bodies as the best route into obtaining high quality

integrated social welfare advice. It will also be recognised

by advice agencies as a trusted vehicle for building capacity

and providing best practice advice to partner agencies. We

have already begun to research the options available and

the steering group members will be involved in evaluating

them and agreeing implementation.

The network will also include agencies not delivering

LSC funded work and will hope to develop the same kinds

of partnership, able to bid for LBTH funding on an area

basis and perhaps on a borough wide basis if the Council

decides on the pooling of their advice budget with the LSC

at a later stage. It is also hoped that such partnerships

would be in a strong position to lever in other sources of

14 Annual Review 2007-2008


Reception, referral, networking and community work

funding.

A launch event, in the form of a mini conference, held at

the end of October was an opportunity for agencies not

currently involved in the steering group, including a number

of private practice solicitors, to look at the progress so far

and have input into the future work and direction of the

network. Agencies have also been encouraged to develop

their own strategies for the best use they could make of the

Link Advisers in their organisations.

By the New Year we hope to be piloting a web based

referral system across our partners and be in a position to

evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the

partnership models available to us. A further conference

style event is planned for the spring when the Link Advisers

will be nearing the end of their second placement. In

addition to providing a development forum for advice

agencies across the borough, this event will review the

progress of the THCAN project and allow for decision

making on the process required to put us firmly on the path

to being in position to bid for LSC single contracts on behalf

of the network in late 2009.

“I would

recommend many

friends to come

should they need

legal help or

advice in the

future.

It was very easy

to talk to [my

advisor] about

my case”

Client feedback

Tower Hamlets Law Centre 15


RECEPTION AND REFERRAL SERVICES

TopicofLaw

Education 47

Debt/MoneyAdvice 80

Housing 331

Immigration 418

Welfarebenefits 229

Employment 68

Family/Relationship Clockwise from top left:

144

Dermot Morrow (Supervisor),

Other 910

Thaslima Begum, Lilian Byrnes (Finance

Total 2227

& Monitoring Supervisor), Ugo Hayter,

Shahnaz Hussain

Education 100

e t oney v ce

16 Housing Annual Review 2007-2008 154

Immigration 724

The reception service is the first point of contact for the vast

majority of people that will become clients of the Law Centre

and for those that we signpost to other agencies where we

are unable to assist with a particular matter.

This year our reception team as part of the

Administrative group helped over 3,500 people at both

signposting and general help level. Our full-time

Receptionist Shahnaz Hussain returned from maternity

leave in September 2008. Her role had been ably covered

in the interim by Makmoda Khanom who we said goodbye

and thanks to.We wish her well.

We also welcomed Musthak Ahmed (previously a Legal

volunteer with the Immigration group) and Ugo Hayter. Both

were appointed as Casework Assistants, initially on a locum

basis, in order to discover the impact of additional support

to caseworkers in delivering their matter start targets in

each group.

This year we have delivered specialist casework advice

to over 1391 people in Housing, Education, Immigration and

Welfare Benefits. The charts below and opposite show

breakdowns of cases undertaken by subject area, age and

ethnicity.

4%

2%

4% 3%

28% 14%

Education

13%

32%

SIGNPOSTING AND GENERAL HELP

The centre launched its new website in the autumn of 2008

- and not before time! A visit to www.thlc.co.uk provides

potential clients, partners and funders alike information on

our services and areas of work.

The eventual aim will be to incorporate the website into

a much larger online referral system involving partner

agencies in Tower Hamlets and other east London

boroughs. The current proposal is for this web-based

system to enable all agencies involved to streamline

services for their clients, by booking appointments with

other agencies on their behalf, discovering other agencies’

capacity for new cases, anticipated waiting times etc.

This work is still at development stage and is being led

by Heather Johnson the THCAN Manager.

Debt/MoneyAdvice

Housing

Immigration

Welfarebenefits

Employment

Family/Relationship

Other

16%

13%

8%

2%

25%

36%

DELIVERY OF CASEWORK BY AGE OF CLIENT


Reception, referral, networking and community work

Stats and Facts

16% of our clients this year define themselves as

having a disability.

TopicofLaw

Education 47

57% of our clients this year were Debt/MoneyAdvice women, and 43%

80

men.

Housing 331

151

Immigration 418

994 This year we have achieved over £430,000 Welfarebenefits in

229

3536 financial gains for clients

Employment 68

Family/Relationship 144

This year we have increased the income of over 190

Other 910

clients.

Total 2227

This year we have gained over £35,000

compensation for clients with housing disrepair cases

Education 100

This year we have represented clients eat tover oney 150 v ce

Welfare Benefits Appeal Tribunals Housing 154

Immigration 724

Welfarebenefits 232

Employment AsianorAsianBritish 5

3.80% 3.70% Family/Relationship Bangladeshi 7

1

35 49

Other BlackorBlackBritishAfrican 84

233

25 34

13.70%

Total 1309

343

46.70%

50 64

WhiteBritish

364

12.60%

17 24

480

65+

Other

19.50% Education 147

0 16

Debt/MoneyAdvice 83

BlackorBlackBritish

Housing Caribbean 485

Immigration 1142

DELIVERY OF CASEWORK BY ETHNICITY OF CLIENT WhiteOther

Welfarebenefits 461

Employment 73

deshi 46.70% 46.7

19.50% 19.5

12.60% 12.6

4% 3%

28% 14%

Education

Debt/MoneyAdvice

Housing

32%

4% 13%

Immigration

2%

Welfarebenefits

Employment

Family/Relationship

Other

16%

34%

CommunityCare

24%

Education

Housing

Immigration

26%

WelfareBenefits

DELIVERY OF CASEWORK BY AREA OF LAW

Tower Hamlets Law Centre 17


Income

Statement of financial activities year ended 31 March 2008

£

31 March 2008

£ £

Restated

31 March 2007

£

Fixed Assets

Current Assets

Tangible fixed assets 54,932 62,360

Debtors 135,384 130,355

Cash at bank 184,248 185,200

320,082 315,555

Creditors: amounts falling due within

one year

(75,781) (90,228)

Net Current Assets 244,301 225,327

Net Assets 299,233 287,687

Charity Funds

Restricted Funds 84,245 55,648

Unrestricted - General Funds 214,988 232,039

299,233 287,687

18 Annual Review 2007-2008


Financial review

Balance sheet as at 31 March 2008

Restricted

funds

31 March

2008

£

Unrestricted

funds

31 March

2008

£

Total funds

year ended

31 March

2008

£

Restated

Total Funds

Year ended

31 March 2007

£

Incoming Resources

Incoming resources from charitable

activities

382,362 599,482 981,814 861,548

Voluntary income - 33,100 33,100 36,096

Investment income - 4,118 4,118 8,827

Expenditure

TOTAL INCOMING RESOURCES 382,362 636,670 1,019,032 906,471

Resources Expended

Cost of generating voluntary income

Governance Costs - 29,665 29,665 27,069

Charitable Activities 380,854 596,967 977,821 906,574

TOTAL RESOURCES EXPENDED 380,854 626,632 1,007,486 933,643

Net incoming resources /

(resources expended) before transfers

Net incoming resources /

(resources expended)

Net movements in funds for the year

(1,508) (10,038) (11,456) 27,172

(1,508) (10,038) (11,456) 27,172

(1,508) (10,038) (11,456) 27,172

TOTAL FUNDS AT 1 APRIL 2007 55,648 232,039 287,687 314,859

TOTAL FUNDS AT 31 MARCH 2008 57,156 242,077 299,233 287,687

Tower Hamlets Law Centre 19


MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE

Derek Cox Chair

Derek Cox works in the borough as a youth and community worker

and has had a long-standing involvement with the Law Centre. He

has been a member of the Law Centre committee since 1973. Derek

has a lot of experience in the community. He is a youth worker by

profession and has lived in Tower Hamlets since 1963.

Abdi Abby Treasurer

Abdi Abby is the Legal Director at Oxford House specialising in

Immigration and Nationality Law. He is also a university practice tutor

and a Governor at Oak Farm School. He is an academic person with

substantial experience of legal and management both general and

personnel. He has been a member of the Law Centre Management

Committee since 1998.As an officer he has been actively involved in

various subcommittees including finance and personnel

Joanne Ferris Secretary

Since graduating from University College London with a degree in

history, Joanne Ferris has worked in a number of business to

business and professional service marketing roles most recently at

Thomas Miller, a City-based insurance services company. Joanne has

a Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing, is a chartered marketer and is

currently studying for an MBA. Joanne has lived in London Borough

of Tower Hamlets for 15 years and is a former Law Centre client.

Abdus Salam

Mr Salam has been involved with community development work for

many years. He has been involved with the Davenant Centre since it’s

formation to date, which provides services for the local

community, working with young people to provide educational

training and employment training. He is also involved with the King

Student School as one of the founder members, both as a board

member and as a volunteer providing practical support for the

students.

Sophy Miles

Sophy Miles is a Solicitor specialising in Mental Health Law. She is

one of the founding Partners at Miles and Partners a Legal Aid firm

based in Tower Hamlets. She has a long-running involvement with

the Law Centre and its work. Sophy first joined the committee in the

1990s, having previously been a volunteer at the Law Centre's

evening sessions since 1987. She left the committee in 1999

following the birth of her first child but rejoined in 2002.

Ajmol Ali

Mr Ali has experience in working on committees, and technical

experience in working with the local community, particularly in

education issues as a member of Stepney Green School board of

Governors.

Gillian Megaughin

After graduating from the University of Edinburgh with a Masters

degree in Physics, Gillian started a career in financial services. She

has held a variety of roles with different organisations. As a result of

one such role, she completed the Graduate Diploma in Law and

developed an interest in law resulting in joining the Management

Committee of the Law Centre. In addition to being involved with the

Law Centre she is also Lower School Governor at Merryhills Primary

School in Enfield, a volunteer first aider with St John Ambulance and

a part time student, currently studying economics.

Stephanie Dickinson

Stephanie Dickinson is a specialist benefits adviser and advice

services manager at a local independent advice agency based in the

Isle of Dogs, where she has worked for the past 13 years. Stephanie

also sits on the management committee of another Tower Hamlets

voluntary sector agency. As a local resident, she maintains an

interest in Tower Hamlets affairs particularly housing issues.

20 Annual Review 2007-2008


PROBONO ASSISTANCE AND VOLUNTEERS

Acknowledgements and thanks

LawWorks and partners

We are indebted to the firms of solicitors that continued to

support us this year with their resources, both in human

form, through the LawWorks scheme and other in-kind

support; and in their generous financial support with

particular projects.

In particular we would like to acknowledge the assistance

of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, especially Jessica

Moore who steps down as co-ordinator of the sessions and

Norton Rose. Both firms provide their trainees enabling the

Centre to run the popular advice session each Monday

evening, advising in Housing, Employment and general

help.

Additionally Hayder Al Hassan (right) from Miles &

Partners continued his long association with the Law Centre

in providing regular supervision of the evening sessions and

deserves a special mention.

One milestone we were very pleased to reach this year

was 35 years of linkage between the Centre and Freshfields

Bruckhaus Deringer. Freshfields hosted an event in October

2008 to mark the association, where members of staff past

and present attended to celebrate the relationship.

Daytime volunteers scheme

Our daytime volunteer scheme has two strands which were

maintained throughout 2008. The role of Legal volunteer

has become an established and structured opportunity for

students interested in a career in law to gain valuable

experiece in a community legal advice setting - a precious

commodity on anyone’s CV seeking out a training contract.

For those not at that stage, or for those returning to work

and seeking to gain general office experience we receive

assistance from our team of Administrative and Reception

volunteers.

We are again extremely grateful for the time, energy,

support and ideas of the following volunteers in both roles

who attended throughout the year (in no particular order):

Mira Lyubenova, Musthak Ahmed, Nasrin Miah, Sahara

Begum, Azizun Nessa, Daniel Ushler, Sameya Ruby, Ovi

Chowdhury, Farzana Ahmad, Nasima Begum, Tahir Bashir,

Katherine Mustafa, Rehana Ahmed, Ruftaj Uddin, Nasmina

Akthar, Sachna Ali, Shehla Khan, Masuma Ahmed, Karin,

Ananiassen, Alex Cook, Rebecca Khattak, Reema

Choudhury and Hamida Khatun.

We would also like to thank the following institutions for

their assistance with providing their students information on

the volunteer scheme: London Metropolitan University,

Queen Mary & Westfield College, Central

University of Iowa, The College of Law, the BPP

Law School and Tower Hamlets College.

Grateful thanks to the walkers from Norton

Rose whose efforts during this year’s annual

London Legal Support Trust (LLST) sponsored

walk raised £2,700 for the Law Centre. Thanks

also to staff from the Centre that took part in

the event (see right). The overall total of funds

generated by the walk for London's legal

advice agencies has now reached £325,000

and continues to rise.

Hayder Al Hassan

Miles & Partners

Tower Hamlets Law Centre 21


Acknowledgements and thanks

AND FINALLY...

Thanks to the staff team that provide the services and

support making it all possible. We have seen 4 staff leave

the centre this year and we wish them well with the new

challenges that they have taken on.

We thank Georgina Morgan for her work as the Centre

Manager these past 4 years and for her firm and inspired

leadership and for the success that has been achieved in

securing new sources of funding and developing new ways

of working in partnership other advice agencies and law

centres.

We thank Katja Cavalleri-Hug for her work as Education

Group Supervisor these past 2½ years and we are

delighted that Janata Ali has been able to step forward to

take over this important role at the centre. Our thanks also

to Makmoda Khanom (Reception Locum) and Tony Peck

(THCAN Link Advisor) who worked 12 months and 6 month

periods respectively at our Centre this past year.

We welcomed 9 new staff to the team. Tazrad Grey has

joined the Education Group. Heather Johnson has been

appointed as the THCAN Link Manager with Abdi Daud

Ibrahim and Rukeya Khan appointed as THCAN Link

Advisers. Sue Brown has been appointed as Centre

Manager, Gordon Quilty and Jacob Fabowale-Makinde

have been appointed as Employment Group Solicitors and

Musthak Ahmed and Ugo Hayter were appointed as

Casework Assistants.

Also, following over 25 years of service to the Law Centre,

first as the Receptionist and later as a Welfare Benefits

caseworker we would like to acknowledge the contribution

of Shahnaz Sikondari (pictured right) who recieved a

commemorative gift on behalf of the staff group and the

Management Committee following our Annual General

Meeting in November 2008.

1986, Reception worker

2008, Welfare Benefits Caseworker

22 Annual Review 2007-2008


OPENING TIMES

During our opening hours, people

can drop in to the centre or

telephone our reception. They will

be seen by a receptionist who will

ask a few questions in order to

assess the problem and then

either provide some basic

information, signpost people to

another organisation that might be

able to help or pass the person’s

details over to a caseworker, who

will examine the details and get

back to the client with an

appointment time.

Caseworkers and solicitors can

only be seen by appointment. The

Law Centre also hold general

drop-in sessions for one-off advice

on Monday evenings from

6.30pm.

Other community advice

organisations working in the

borough can contact the Law

Centre for second tier advice in

our specialist areas of law, or to

find out more about training

courses available.

Tower Hamlets Law Centre 23


Tower Hamlets Law Centre

214 Whitechapel Road

London

E1 1BJ

DX: 155240 TOWER HAMLETS 2

Tel: 020 7247 8998

Fax: 020 7247 9424

Email: info@thlc.co.uk

Web: www.thlc.co.uk

A company limited by guarantee, registered in England no. 1720518. Registered charity no.287282. VAT no. 244 4252 79

Law Centre ® is the registered trade mark of the Law Centres Federation

The Law Centre’s work is supported by

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