Staff, service cuts likely
Reduced staffing and services are expected at Whitireia Community Law Centre following a $50,000 funding cut.
The centre, manned by lawyers, non-legal staff and volunteers, has been operating in Porirua since 1994. It provides free assistance, advocacy and representation for individuals and organisations who may not be able to afford it.
In the past 12 months the law centre has seen nearly 6800 clients, more than they are contracted to by the Ministry of Justice, but due to ‘‘ deficiencies’’ in other areas, $50,000 of funding is being withheld.
With a budget of $344,000, and a staff of eight lawyers and two administration staff, managing solicitor Louis Leung says they face tough decisions.
‘‘$50,000 is quite a drop and it will have a big effect. It has come as a big shock to us.’’
Performance levels for 2011/12 show Whitireia Community Law Centre’s [ WCLC] representation and assistance are 48 per cent and 26 per cent above targets respectively, but advice (65 per cent), information (74 per cent) and education (90 per cent) are below Ministry of Justice requirements.
‘‘We are going to contest this information because whenever we talk to a client we are giving advice and information,’’ Mr Leung says. ‘‘There is a system for recording data which we think is unreasonable; often we are going straight to the representation and assistance stage, which we are well over our targets for.
‘‘Numbers often do not reflect the work we are doing – staff [ at WCLC] are passionate about this community and often make sacrifices to work here.’’
The law centre’s advisory committee chairman Aporo Joyce says Ministry of Justice cannot expect the centre to turn clients away in return for more time on law reform and legal education.
‘‘It’s not about ticking boxes, it’s about helping people who are in trouble and this cut will lead to reduced services to our community. We contracted to provide 5700 hours of service [last financial year] and we’ve exceeded that.
‘‘This is our law centre, we put our community first and won’t tell people in need to go away because their problem doesn’t fit the Ministry’s statistical model.’’
Mr Leung hopes to enter mediation with Ministry of Justice to discuss the funding reduction, but, for now, ‘‘we have to live with it’’.
New Zealand has 26 community law centres, and he says they are aware of at least one other that faces a similar cut. He would love for Porirua residents to make their feelings known to their MP or Justice Minister Judith Collins.
As well as the Ministry of Justice, law centres get funding through grants and from the Lawyers and Conveyancers Special Fund (interest earned on lawyers’ trust accounts).