Changes to Advice Grants
Cllr Caroline Selman, Cabinet Member for Community Safety, Policy and the Voluntary Sector, explains the changes to funding for advice services in the borough, and why this funding has been protected:
Hackney’s advice providers play a critical role in helping some of the most vulnerable people in our borough - from supporting people to access the welfare they are entitled to, to navigating an increasingly complex immigration system to challenging incorrect housing decisions, they both help prevent harm and uphold important rights.
To be effective, it is vitally important that we value, champion and invest in an advice sector that supports our residents and is not afraid to challenge and disagree with us when we get things wrong.
It is why I was proud to stand on the Hackney Mayor’s manifesto in 2018 committing us to continuing to invest in independent legal advice - and why despite responding to significant reductions to our own funding, we have protected our voluntary sector advice budget from cuts, ensuring that we are continuing to invest in this area.
I know our residents greatly value these services too, which is why I can understand the concerns that have been raised about the recent grant allocation decisions relating to Hackney Community Law Centre (HCLC). These concerns have primarily focussed on questions relating to the Advice Review that helped shape the November 2018 Advice Grant Framework and concerns about the future of HCLC. I have sought to provide further detail on both below.
As a Council, we are keenly aware that advice providers are operating in an increasingly challenging environment. Years of austerity, welfare reform, the housing crisis and a hostile immigration environment have increased demand at the same time as increased pressure on funding including through reductions in legal aid and broader public sector cuts.
Against this backdrop, it is crucial that advice providers and the Council work together to respond and adapt. That is why in early 2016 we took the decision to be on the front foot, responding to the concerns being raised with us by local providers, to improve our collective understanding of how together we could better meet the needs of residents - including looking at how we needed to adapt as a Council.
In doing so we took a “whole system” approach - an approach that:
Focuses on and listens to the perspective of individual service users to understand what they want and need from advice
Considers how actions in one part of the advice system might be driving demand elsewhere in the system, or within an individual provider - for example poor communication in correspondence by the Council leading to people seeking advice or through individuals ending up in the wrong place the first time round
Looks to develop a better understanding of access issues or gaps in provision
Supports advice providers to work and collaborate together to deliver a single service that:
Seeks to resolve people’s issues at the earliest stage
Is able to pull in support from other providers with different expertise to support individuals to resolve concerns in the round, without getting lost in a complicated landscape of signposting and gaps
Shares and exchanges practice with each other and the Council in order to continue to improve and adapt to emerging trends and learning.
Achieving collective change isn’t easy, in particular within a sector of lots of different providers each passionate about achieving the best for their users against a backdrop of often limited capacity. We therefore asked Advice UK ─ a registered charity which acts as a co-ordinating body for independent advice providers in the UK - to support and empower providers and the Council staff to work together on the review.
We were also clear that this needed to be a process of co-production and mutual learning. First through intensive working with three of the larger providers of advice within the Borough, before opening it up in early 2018 to 19 other local providers of advice to ensure that the model was being designed as transparently as possible. This was a process of observing what was going on in their own and others services, understanding the user journey and experience, through a mix of observations, experimenting with new ways of working and group workshops, as captured in updated reports to Cabinet in January 2018, June 2018 and the Integrated Commissioning Board.
This culminated in the design of a new model through workshops in the summer of 2018 and set out in the publicly available framework for grant funding, with an advice provider workshop held in September 2018 to outline the application process and the key tenants of the advice grant framework. Funding was allocated as against that framework by way of an open grants process.
Following that grant allocation process some existing providers, including HCLC, have received a smaller share of grant funding than in previous years. This has led to concerns being raised about the impact on access to legal advice within the borough and for HCLC themselves.
The same portion of advice grant funding has been allocated to providers offering qualified legal advice as in previous years with a wider mix of critical friends that have a record of challenging the Council where needed, alongside providing much needed legal advice.
While grant funding has been allocated to a greater number of providers than in previous years, the fact that HCLC continues to receive the second highest grant allocation of any individual provider reflects their valued role within the advice landscape in Hackney.
However, we also recognise the challenging financial environment in which organisations are operating which is why as part of the original cabinet decision we identified additional funding that could be used for transitional support where appropriate. We have since been listening to the concerns raised by HCLC about the impact on their financial position and are continuing to meet with them to ensure there are no unintended impacts on their ability to continue in their role as a valued part of the advice landscape in Hackney.