Since launching in August 2017, the number of clients accessing free legal advice from students at Swansea University’s Law Clinic has more than doubled.
As a result of the increase in demand, the clinic has recently relocated to dedicated, professional facilities that have been part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Legal Innovation Lab Wales project.
Located at the heart of the University’s Singleton Park Campus, the Law Clinic has launched new drop-in clinics and outreach activities.
Last year 76 people turned to the clinic for free initial legal advice and support – more than twice the number who used it between September 2017 - August 2018.
The sharp spike in the number of people accessing the services is being linked to difficulties in accessing legal aid advice, particularly relating to housing issues.
The Law Society analysed data from the Legal Aid Agency directory of providers (February 2019) and the Office of National Statistics (2017) and found that in England and Wales:
- 37% of the population live in a local authority area with no housing legal aid providers.
- Over half of all local authorities do not provide housing legal aid services.
Professor Richard Owen, director of Swansea Law Clinic, said: “The significant cuts to civil legal aid in 2013 took much of family and housing law outside the scope of legal aid unless there are exceptional circumstances. There is a shortage of legal aid housing lawyers, which means that if someone is still within scope of legal aid, it can be hard to find a legal aid lawyer with the specialism and capacity to take them on. That’s where we come in to offer as much help we can.
“Most of the cases we see at the law clinic are to do with housing, with most inquiries relating to landlords and letting agents. We’ve had some vulnerable clients at our clinic who were facing homelessness, but no other agency was able to assist them. The help and support we provide really is vital for those who turn to us.
“Earlier this week we had so many clients that we had bring in additional student advisers. With the recent closure of TA Law, one of Swansea’s largest legal aid practices, I have no doubt that the demand for our services will continue to grow.”
All of the advice provided by the team of fully-trained student volunteers in the Swansea Law Clinic is supervised by a qualified legal practitioner.
The law and criminology students specialise in:
- Family law
They cannot currently provide assistance for issues that concern immigration, criminal law, will writing, tax, debt, asylum or immigration.
As well as its case work with clients, the clinic has an outreach team which works with local schools, educating children on how the law impacts on their lives, and also runs a miscarriage of justice project.
Students also benefit in many ways from volunteering in the clinic.
Isabel Francis, a Legal Practice Course student who volunteers at Swansea Law Clinic, said: “My time at the clinic has made me understand the necessity of pro bono services. Often clients cannot afford legal advice elsewhere and it is important that people have access to fundamental legal services.
“We as students are fortunate that we get so much hands-on experience through volunteering. In the clinic, we get to develop interviewing skills, case recording, practical legal research, as well soft skills such as dealing with upset and vulnerable people. We also get to experience outreach work at HM Swansea Prison and Maggie's Care, and through the Miscarriage of Justice Project we learn about investigative techniques, document management, police investigation, forensic science and rules of criminal evidence.”