The Welsh Government is encouraging people in need of legal advice to come forward and see what support is available to them.
It comes as the cost-of-living crisis continues to put pressure on people’s personal finances and increases the need for support on matters such as housing, welfare benefit appeals and debt.
Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, and Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice, visited the Speakeasy Law Centre in Cardiff to see for themselves how specialist legal advice services can help people.
The Speakeasy Law Centre provides free legal advice across Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, tackling social welfare issues including welfare benefits, debt, housing and employment law. The service was launched in 1992 to help people trapped in financial hardship. It employs solicitors and specialist advisers who provide legal advice, assistance and representation.
Warren Palmer, Solicitor and Centre Director, Speakeasy Law Centre, said:
“In a cost of living crisis, it is more important than ever that people can get free legal advice when they are facing housing, employment or benefit problems. The law is complex and dealing with landlords, employers and the DWP can be daunting.”
Law Centres employ specialist solicitors to advise clients free of charge. The Speakeasy Law Centre in Cardiff is currently the only Law Centre in Wales, although there is a project to set up second Law Centre in north Wales this spring. The North Wales Law Centre Steering Group is currently undertaking a recruitment campaign.
Despite many areas of justice not being devolved, the Welsh Government’s Single Advice Fund supports advice services across Wales with around £11m a year in funding, helping support services like the Speakeasy Law Centre.
Since the fund was introduced in January 2020 it has supported 144,000 people deal with more than 660,000 social welfare problems. It has helped people to claim £83m of additional income, writing off debts worth more than £23m.
Speaking at the meeting, Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, encouraged people from across Wales to take advantage of support available to them if they need it, as ‘high quality legal advice can prevent issues from spiralling and becoming more serious’. He added:
“Information and advice services are even more important because of the sweeping real-terms cuts to legal aid over the last decade, which is putting access to advice out of reach for more and more people and increasing the burden on volunteers.
“We will be stressing the importance of information and specialist advice services, and the need to increase levels of funding, in the upcoming UK Government review of civil legal aid.”
Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice, said:
“As people’s finances become more and more stretched this only increases the risk of debt, housing and welfare problems.
“People shouldn’t struggle in silence. Support is available and we encourage people who need help to take advantage of the services available to them – Advicelink Cymru is an excellent place to start.”
Advicelink Cymru – a Welsh Government funded service including Citizens Advice and other services – is designed to help people most in need of advice services, wherever they are in Wales. The service can be reached on 0800 702 2020.