Emergency payouts to the victims of the Grenfell fire will not affect legal aid eligibility. It has been four weeks since the tragedy at the tower block in North Kensington for new regulations to go before Parliament allowing the Legal Aid Agency the discretion to disregard payouts in calculating disposable income or gross income.
The Law Society sought clarity on whether money from the emergency discretionary fund as well as other charitable sources would be taken into account when the government assesses means for legal aid. Following the fire the government established a £5 million discretionary fund and announced that those who lost their homes would be given at least £5,500.
‘State funding is still available for some legal issues that people affected by the Grenfell fire are facing and we have been liaising with the Legal Aid Agency to ensure the emergency payments made to residents of Grenfell Tower – from government and charities – will not affect survivors’ eligibility for legal aid,’ said Law Society president Joe Egan. ‘Legal aid is a lifeline for the vulnerable. Early legal advice can help people sort out their problems and prevent them from having to rely on welfare support or involve the courts.’
Earlier in the week, Chancery Lane signposted those affected by the fire to North Kensington Law Centre in response to concerns about ‘ambulance-chasing’. Earlier in the week human rights firm Leigh Day suspended two paralegals, Harnita Rai and Sejal Sachania, for a poster offering to help victims ‘kick-start any potential insurance claims and review any complex documents’. The poster said that the two individuals were not charging for their advice but a third party might. The firm claimed not to know of the posters until a report appeared in the Times.
Chancery Lane pointed out that North Kensington Law Centre had been ‘serving some of the poorest and most disadvantaged in the area for nearly 50 years’ and was working with ‘volunteer lawyers to provide independent, impartial and free legal advice on housing, employment, immigration and asylum and welfare benefits’.
‘People bereaved, injured or made destitute by the fire in Grenfell Tower are likely to be forced to navigate a huge range of difficult and unfamiliar legal issues as a result of the tragedy,’ commented Joe Egan. ‘Early, impartial, reliable legal advice is hugely important at such times. We hope that by signposting trusted sources of legal advice and providing some clarity about what support residents can access, we may make this process just a little easier.’
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