Law staff try to stay positive

MAIKE VAN DER HEIDE
Last updated 16:00 13/06/2012

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Blenheim Community Law faces another year of uncertainty after this year's budget revealed no new funding for the service, which could be slashed next year in favour of a national helpline.

The proposed 0800 line for legal advice indicated by the Justice Ministry is likely to be accompanied by the closure of some of the 26 autonomous community law centres around the country when their contracts with the Ministry end in June 2013.

Blenheim Community Law Centre manager Gordon Strang said the centre operated on about $300,000 annually but the organisation was told before last year's Budget its current level of Government funding would definitely come to an end by 2013.

Since the latest Budget was released, Mr Strang had not heard that situation had changed.

"I would expect to know soon, especially if there was bad news," he said.

The Blenheim centre has been receiving the same level of Government funding since 2008.

Mr Strang could not comment on how, or if, Blenheim's centre would survive on reduced, or no, Government funding, saying the organisation's board was "wrestling" with the issue now.

Meanwhile, he and his staff were doing their best to keep spirits up, despite an uncertain future.

"The uncertainty is not good but everyone is trying to keep positive – the board and the staff.

"At this stage we're hanging in there."

In the financial year to June 30, 2011, the Blenheim Community Law Centre helped 2209 clients, totalling 4480 hours of service.

Most single cases dealt with by the centre were to do with employment, followed by financial matters such as people unable to pay their rent or other bills, Mr Strang says, but the biggest area of law was family law, such as care of children, adult relationships and domestic violence.

Community Law centres are mainly funded from interest earned on solicitors' trust accounts held on behalf of their clients, but a slow housing market and low interest rates over the last few years has diminished the funds available.

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- The Marlborough Express

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