Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Benefits legal advice resource under threat from Government cuts

February 10 2011
Service is not duplicated by other organisations, says spokesperson

The Birmingham Tribunal Unit (BTU), an independent voluntary organisation established in 1986 to provide free welfare benefits legal advice, is under threat of closure. Following Birmingham City Council's November 2010 decision that funding to voluntary sector advice agencies would be terminated from December, Kathleen Corrigan, the BRU's project manager, was faced with the prospect of the Unit having to cease accepting referrals (as has now happened) and the threat of closure. Ms Corrigan told The Pavement: "Although an absolute decision to close the Unit has not yet been made (this is the responsibility of our trustees), we are informing our users that the funding we received from the Council has been terminated and, as a result, we may have to close at the end of March 2011. Whilst we generate some income from other sources such as charitable trusts, a legal help scheme and by delivering training, this is not enough to sustain the organisation without additional funding."

Although the Unit is now advising clients to contact other organisations such as Community Legal Advice and the EDAS Foundation to request legal representation, Kathleen believes that BTU's service is unique to the region: "As far as I am aware, we are the only organisation in Birmingham that consistently provides representation at benefit appeal hearings. There are a couple of community-based advice agencies such as the CASA Project that do some representation, and Community Legal Advice provides specialist telephone advice and can prepare cases on behalf of claimants but does not represent. It is very difficult to know where homeless clients can go if they need representation. We currently have some 280 clients who had expected us to represent them, but there is a possibility we will not be around to conclude their cases. The situation is very worrying, and the uncertainty over the threat of closure makes things very difficult for staff on both a personal and professional level."

•   Community Legal Advice (formerly Community Legal Service Direct) provides help and advice on issues such as benefits, tax credits, debt, education, housing and employment. They can be contacted on 0845 345 4345.

•    The EDAS Foundation, a charity which provides advice and guidance for local people to achieve greater social mobility and living standards, can be contacted on 0121 507 9903.

•   The Community Advocacy Support and Advice (CASA) Project offers advice, advocacy and support for people from ethnic minorities living in the Balsall Heath, Small Heath, Moseley, Sparkhill and Sparkbrook areas of Birmingham. The Project can be contacted on 0121 440 5022.