Run for Justice: Housing matters

New Years Resolutions?… Hmm. I’ve never been one for turning over a new leaf come the New Year. Dry January? Not so much. Perhaps a little perversely I challenged myself to dry end of November/first half of December. Not so catchy I know. Did it work? It did, thanks.

As for the New Year, new gym membership thing, my training for London’s new Big Half marathon in March continues through winter’s snow, rain and hail. Today myself and two friends – including barrister friend Navita who got me into this challenge- were rewarded with sun.

But the real reward is knowing that a small amount of much-needed money from running the Big Half goes towards access to justice and in particular legal advice centres and citizens advice bureaus. It’s hard to overstate how important these oases have become in the face of legal aid advice deserts following successive cuts. Near me a kind of ‘cardboard city’ has grown up under the railway bridge. A couple of days before Christmas each side of the pavement overflowed with pallets and sleeping bags. I don’t know the individual stories of homelessness but they bring into sharp focus the need for professional advice for anyone facing eviction, rent problems and homelessness.

So this is the ‘why I’m doing it?’ bit. Again!

The London Legal Support Trust, who I’m running the half for, supports advice centres to ensure people are treated fairly, within the law. Enforcing people’s legal rights in today’s precarious accommodation market is a significant part of that work. Like Sandra. Sandra was threatened with eviction because of the disturbance she caused neighbours. Disturbance caused by her being beaten up by her partner. The police could take action against her violent partner. But she had to look elsewhere for help with her home. Too scared to go to a solicitor – even if there had been a local housing solicitor left, so many have got out of that side of law – she sought help from a free pro-bono clinic. A lawyer there was able to successfully support her case for holding onto the lease and she was able to stay in her home.

Then there’s Ella. When Ella came to the pro-bono clinic she had been turfed out of her rented place, despite an assured shorthold tenancy and unable to get a £1000 deposit back. With free legal advice she successfully recouped £1000 from the deposit and the court ordered the landlord to pay her more than £4000 for breaking the law with the deposit. Without legal support preparing her case for the hearing it’s unlikely Ella would have been able to turn that crisis around. How many Ellas are there out there at the mercy of landlords, needing support to enforce their tenancy rights?

These are just two stories of women whose lives have been helped by vital access to justice in an emergency. Legal advice really can change lives. It matters. It can be the difference between a roof over your head and the street. That’s how my arm was twisted to run for a legal charity. This is the begging bit. If you can help, please do.

Or feel free to talk about this on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn: @philippaBudgen @LLST #BigHalf

Thanks for listening!