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Providing pro bono support on social housing issues

According to a study carried out by the University of Bristol (July 2022), one in six households are estimated to be in ‘serious financial difficulties’, mostly affecting those already living in some of the most deprived areas in the country. For the past three years, our lawyers have provided pro bono support to individuals living in Tower Hamlets through our partnership with University House Legal Advice Centre (LAC). Building on a long-running collaboration, we have worked closely with the team at the LAC to create a remote drop-in clinic, whereby clients of the centre can speak to a qualified lawyer and seek help with their social housing issues. 

During the weekly clinic appointments, lawyers advise and assist individuals on a range of issues, including inadequate housing allocation (often based on medical needs) and disrepair. These clients are often living in appalling conditions and present a myriad of issues – many are elderly, have a disability, are young families or single-parent households, or are accessing benefits.

Speaking about her experience working with clients of the Social Housing Clinic, Sally Wilson, Senior Associate in our London Private Property team, said:

Volunteering at each Social Housing Clinic appointment only takes a few hours and I try to volunteer at least once a month. I really appreciate the opportunity to use my knowledge and skills to give something back and make a difference to the lives of the vulnerable clients. Training and guidance are provided, and it gives me the chance to learn and work outside my usual practice area. The flexibility of the clinic allows me to support when it suits my schedule and fit in around my normal fee-earning work. It is a challenging and very rewarding experience, which I am very happy to champion.

Since 2021 our lawyers had staffed two clinic appointments every Thursday morning. The cost-of-living crisis has increased demand for legal support now more than ever. This, combined with the strong bank of volunteer lawyers, has meant that we have been able to staff an extra appointment every week since November 2023. 

Commenting on the collaborative project, Muzammel Hussen, Senior Housing Solicitor at the LAC, outlined:

We have seen an overwhelming increase in the numbers of people seeking advice at the Legal Advice Centre with issues around social housing. Charles Russell Speechlys is one of four law firms that work on this project, taking three out of the six appointments on Thursday mornings. The social housing clinic enables those that require legal support to speak to a fully trained lawyer, who can help with their request. In turn, this helps to ease some of the pressure on the Legal Advice Centre and provide support that our clients so desperately need.

We responded to an increase in demand for legal advice by training our lawyers in more areas of social housing law. We now also advise on succession and assignment, tenancy enquiries and deposit recovery, dealing with rent arrears and notice, as well as working with homeless people and assisting with suitability.

The Social Housing Clinic is one of our lower-level time commitment pro bono projects and we currently have 40 lawyers working on this project from a range of practice groups (Corporate Restructuring and Insolvency, Private Property, Commercial Dispute Resolution, Tax Trusts and Successions, Family, Real Estate, Private Wealth Disputes, Innovation Technology, Financial Funds and Services, Construction, Corporate, Employment and Immigration, and Real Estate Disputes). The initiative is open to all lawyers in our UK offices at all levels of qualification.

Sharing her experience of championing the clinic, Karin Mouhon, Trainee Solicitor in our London Private Property team, said:

I have advised  clients on basic social housing issues since my first seat with the firm through the Social Housing Clinic, run in partnership with University House Legal Advice Centre. From this, I have learnt a lot about a new area of law, and I have gained a new perspective when it comes to problem solving with clients I see in my day-to-day work.

If you are interested to learn more about our Pro Bono Practice, please contact Susan Field, Senior Pro Bono Associate.

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