Helping clients find their way through the legal maze
Our clients come to the ‘Drop-in centre’ at St John’s Church for many different reasons. Perhaps the biggest challenge they face is the process of making an application to the Home Office for ‘leave to remain’. The complexity of the application and the lack of support, combined with the cost, make it a troublesome and dehumanising experience for many.
It has therefore been a real step forwards to be able to offer free initial legal advice to our clients on a monthly basis. The need for such guidance is often identified during a discussion at the drop-in centre and a referral then made to one of our partner solicitors. Advice is given regarding how to progress their application, how to overcome any obstacles, the costs involved and where help might come from to assist with these costs. Legal Aid options are now few and far between and clients are often forced to seek assistance from friends and religious communities to meet the costs which can run into thousands of pounds. Add to this the upfront ‘NHS fee’ and you get an idea of just how daunting it can be.
The free legal advice service was started off by Shiraz Peer and Samreen Sayed from ‘Peer and Co’ in Watford who also provide training for the our volunteers at special briefing sessions. Other commitments have meant that Peer and Co have not been able to continue providing this support, but we will always be grateful to them for getting this incredibly important initiative off the ground.
We now have a new solicitor coming in, Salma Khan from Pickup and Scott in Aylesbury. Legal Aid accredited, Salma has considerable experience in immigration matters and has a helpful and supportive approach. Our thanks go to her and her practice for helping the Partnership with this.
“The complexity of the application and the lack of support, combined with the cost, make it a troublesome and dehumanising experience for many”
So what difference does it make? Countless examples could be given of how applications have been progressed and clients helped. One that sticks in my mind was such a simple one. A lady came for advice as she submitted her application for ‘Right to remain’ about 6 months ago. Having heard nothing back she wondered if it was lost, was being ignored or had been refused without her knowing. She felt confused and left out of what was going on. The solicitor assured her that the Home Office had such a backlog that this was quite normal – she should not worry. She left a different person, feeling empowered and much more involved in the process.
Paul Tucke, Drop-in centre coordinator