Name of Company:Community Links, Lovells & Barclay
Programme Name:Bow County Court Advice Network (BCCAN)
Staff in London:1000
BCCAN provides a housing debt advice and representation to residents facing eviction, who come before Bow County Court. This service is the only one spread across four London Boroughs, covering all of the London Borough of Newham and parts of the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Redbridge. In 2004/5 BCCAN faced possible closure after 15 years of operation due to lack of funding and support. Through a joint partnership with Barclays Bank, Community Links and Lovells, it has managed to secure the future of the Bow County Court Scheme such that the service can continue to provide vital help to over 1,000 people a year that face the very real prospect of losing their homes in court hearings where legal aid is not available. The Scheme has now been able to mobilise volunteer lawyers from firms across East London (including Lovells). Without the service these vulnerable people would be forced to represent themselves. Not only has the service been saved, but it has been extended by providing a debt advisory service on site, to help those facing eviction to better manage their finances. As a result, the service can now offer "all round" support which will be more effective.
This is not a high profile project but seeks to tackle some of the hardest and most complex debt issues individuals face and helps to relieve some of the anxiety of those facing loss of a home.
Primary responsibility for the service had been with Community Links in conjunction with the Lovells Pro bono unit. Volunteer duty solicitors are recruited and trained using mentoring techniques and shadowing, plus a formal training session. The mentoring is provided by a current adviser and continues until the new adviser becomes confident to undertake the representation alone. In that way each new adviser is given tailored support. An e-mail noticeboard has been created to circulate new legal points and issues that have come up at Court amongst duty solicitors so they are kept fully informed.
Each adviser completes an advice summary, and all summaries are reviewed by a qualified solicitor. The feedback helps to ensure a consistent service to the client and provides a basis for constant review of the performance of the service.
BCCAN clients are offered discrete assistance, advice and representation tailored to their specific needs and circumstances. Generally there is no need for follow-up work from a solicitor. If the client requires debt and/or welfare advice, as is often the case, they are referred to Community Links. Community Links have recently devised a form whereby they are given express permission by the BCCAN clients to contact them directly, rather than wait for the BCCAN clients to come to Community Links for advice, thus providing the BCCAN clients with well-rounded advice and services.
With financial, technical and volunteer support, the BCCAN service has been put on sound financial footing after the threat of closure. In the last financial year the partner organisations have:
- Ensured an orderly take over of the service from BCCAS (Bow County Court Advice Service) to Community Links (BCCAN) without a break in continuity for clients.
- Ensured 1,000 defendants a year are represented in eviction warrant hearings with 90% being successful.
- Helped to strengthen the duty solicitor volunteer network so that there are now other high street law firms participating.
- Provided an expert debt advisor on site at Court.
- Sponsored and delivered training and materials on debt advice for Lovells and Community Links advocates and volunteers.
- Provided an appeals representation service at Social Security tribunals for over 50 elderly and disabled people a year, many of whom also face the threat of eviction.
- Provided follow up case work for those who are about to be evicted and need additional support.
- Provided help with policy issues such as the scope of the judges authority to act.
- Provided facilities such as access to training rooms, meeting spaces, covering all providing admin support eg photocopying services.
- Facilitated additional funding by introducing other partners to the Scheme eg Chelsea Building Society and Matrix Chambers.
"The gratitude felt by clients for whom you have acted through possibly one of the most difficult events that they may ever have had to face is very humbling but above all demonstrates why the work is so important."
- Lovells Duty Solicitor