‘They tried to get lawyers’: Devastating cuts to legal aid prevented Grenfell Tower residents accessing advice over safety concerns

Legal profession offers pro bono support to blaze victims

Grenfell Tower in West London

Grenfell Tower’s residents tried to obtain legal advice over safety concerns but were prevented from doing so due to devastating cuts to legal aid.

Pilgrim Tucker, who has worked with the local campaign organisation Grenfell Action Group, made the damning claim yesterday evening during an emotionally-charged Newsnight.

Having cited a number of alleged structural and maintenance issues with the Kensington tower block, Tucker (pictured bottom right) said: “They [residents] can’t afford lawyers. They tried to get lawyers but because of the legal aid cuts they couldn’t get lawyers.”

Her point resonated on Twitter. Daphne Romney QC, a barrister at Cloisters specialising in employment law, tweeted:

Elsewhere, Laura Clenshaw — editorial manager at the Solicitors Regulation Authority — wrote:

Meanwhile, Tom, an ex-lawyer according to his Twitter bio, said:

In an attempt to save around £350 million a year, the government introduced a series of significant changes to civil legal aid in England and Wales. This meant certain types of cases — including divorce, welfare, employment and housing (except in limited circumstances) — were no longer eligible for free legal support. The cuts, introduced back in April 2013, were strongly opposed by professional legal bodies and lawyers alike.

Grenfell Tower, home to around 600 people, caught fire during the early hours of Wednesday morning. Hundreds of firefighters and 45 fire engines were involved in efforts to control the blaze as it ripped through the 27-storey building. At the time of publication, 17 people have been confirmed dead and dozens more injured.

Clearly moved by the disaster and keen to help in anyway they can, lawyers are now offering free legal assistance to those affected. Jolyon Maugham QC, a tax specialist at Devereux Chambers, instigated the appeal, tweeting:

A flood of other solicitors and barristers quickly followed:

Lawyers willing to act for clients on a pro bono basis should contact North Kensington Law Centre on 020 8969 7473 or email here.

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek’s careers events, sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub here.


Angela Ditchfield

Quite possibly one of them would have been, but it’s unlikely the residents knew who to ask.
It’s likely that there are thousands more in similar situations, and it would be great if some lawyers can help them pro bono, but the system can’t run on expecting lawyers to work for free every time, and people in need to somehow find a sympathetic one – we need a coordinated legal aid system properly funded.

(Speaking as a non-lawyer who is currently being helped pro bono where legal aid not available.)

Reply Report comment

I think Angela rightly made the point they can’t be expected to work for free, not that Pro Bono should be eradicated but that a properly funded system would lessen the need for it.

Reply Report comment

I don’t want to live in a society where justice is a province of those who can afford it – is that fair? Often it’s those who are destitute who need legal help the most (think welfare tribunals). We have a National Health Service, wouldn’t you support a National Legal Service, too…?

You’re right, doctors don’t work for free, but that’s hardly a fair comparison – do you pay your GP directly? No, your GP’s salary is paid out of NI contributions, those wishing to seek justice must find the money themselves. I’m no Human Rights lawyer (or any kind of lawyer) but I’d say that denying legal aid to those who desperately need it is a breach of their human rights. I’m also not a fan of the government ‘cherry-picking’ what does – and doesn’t – qualify for aid; that’s almost akin to the NHS saying it’ll cover cancer treatment, but not hip replacements – does your 95-year-old nan deserve to be left in agony…? By the same token, does someone needing a lawyer to help them get their disability benefits reinstated or, as in this case, recompense from a dodgy landlord – deserve to be left destitute simply because the government has decided they won’t pay for that…? In the grand scheme of things, £350m is peanuts – NOBODY should be denied access to justice. I have long advocated for some kind of national register of lawyers and law firms prepared to work pro bono so that everyone, regardless of income, has access to justice. That’s how things should work in a fair and just society.

I’ll wait for the ‘loony Leftie’ jibes to roll in…

Reply Report comment

Yes… I volunteer at a charity because I value the worth of other people and helping others less fortunate. We have others who are from big corporations who donate a lot of free work to us to help keep us running. Some people do actually care about others. I have to work around it to put food on the table and that work charges rich people for goods and services. For rich people I don’t work for free. Get the picture.

Reply Report comment

I was an international student in England during 2013-2016 studying law. Why practitioners should also do pro bono? This is my perspective based on my experience. Some students paid through the entire journey to complete BPTC and they did pro bono, but they never got onto pupillage even though their pro bono service was excellent and was really job quality. However, there were other PRE_SELECTED students who got bptc scholarships & pupillage promise, and yet they never did anything useful during their study years; even mooting and writing competitions that were extra human resources to train them.

Reply Report comment
Junior crim barrister

Pro bono is such a tricky one. By nature of the path we’ve chosen legal aid lawyers generally want to help people and will be willing to take on pro bono clients were we can. But if we continue to do so we mop up where the govt are cutting legal aid budgets. Is there a point where by undertaking pro bono we’re helping them to make their cuts because they know we’ll prop up the system as much as we can?

Reply Report comment

What a crass comment. You should be livid that legal aid was taken away. At the time many lawyers predicted it would end very badly. Legal aid was originally put in place for very good reasons.

Reply Report comment

What a crass comment. You should be livid that legal aid was taken away. At the time many lawyers predicted it would end very badly. Legal aid was originally put in place for very good reasons.

Reply Report comment

Crass comment.
People working for free is not the answer, not in the long term anyway.
Your attitude is the reason we have foodbanks.
Take away proper support and hope that people can get help through piecemeal things like internet campaigns.

It’s all part of David Cameron’s “big society”.

Reply Report comment
Mike P

You effing wanker! If you and some of your cronies had done your job and stood up for the less well off ,as well as not voting against providing safe social housing , then we wouldn’t be in this mess. Shame it would have cost you a couple of grand, but human life is worth far more than what you give credit for.
I hope you rot in the fires of hell. Maybe then you might begin to realize what these people have experienced. You are despicable.

Reply Report comment

Austerity costs lives.

– Cheaper, flammable cladding chosen when a slightly more expensive fireproof version was available.

– No sprinklers notwithstanding the fact that the building was “refurbished” last year.

– Families sleeping on the streets while thousands of homes remain empty for rich investors.

Time for a change?

Reply Report comment

There has always been a pro bono unit at the bar. Every barrister I know does some form of pro bono work per year. The point that appears to have been missed is that the law is supposed to protect the vulnerable and legal aid was designed to ensure that the poor and the rich had equality in the courts. So that the rich couldn’t just go and buy and expensive legal team in circumstances where the poor couldnt afford to take a case against them. Lawyers weren’t effected by legal aid. There is always be work out hire for lawyers. The only people to suffer as a result of legal aid cuts were the poor.

Reply Report comment
John Ascough

Because there hadn’t been a catastrophic fire and lawyers have to eat as well. The average salary for criminal, housing…immigration solicitors is lamantable.

Reply Report comment

I work for a Law Centre (registered charity) and we were able to do a lot more pro bono work before the cuts to legal aid and local authority funding. This last few years we have literally managed to keep going by the skin of our teeth but we are still doing our best to help those in need.

Reply Report comment
Rob L.

I work for a social welfare law practice in South Wales carrying out civil legal aid work all over England and Wales for housing, debt & wb (particularly London) and we as a firm protested against Ken Clarke’s cuts (LASPO) when they were announced in 2010-2011 to no avail because we knew what the potential risks could be. We still do about £50k – £75k of pro-bono work per annum to bridge the shortfall in the legal aid funding to ensure our clients get the service they deserve. Most people think solicitors get gilt edge salaries however I can tell you that for social welfare lawyers (and I include paralegals in that) they do not, with many experienced social welfare solicitors on lower salaries than the management in any Aldi or Lidl supermarket.; in fact supervising solicitors in civil legal aid practice would be lucky to achieve salaries greater than £30k – my 28 year old son earns more than that as a software programmer! Couple all this with rising PII costs and a rigid, inflexible inept Legal Aid Agency and it is small wonder than any legal aid providers remain in practice.

Reply Report comment

Cuts to civil legal sid had meant that many high street firms and advice centres can no longer provide housing advice. One knows the situation is fire when barristers go out on strike

Reply Report comment

Once again the poorest are left to depend upon the kindness of strangers willing to take up the responsibilities abdicated by the gov’t. Food banks, anyone? Relatives providing care for parents or spouse with little or no professional support?

Reply Report comment

People are waking up to this government, and this country was about fairness , MAY, is not about fairness, she is about supporting the rich, , separation between classes, she has not understanding about humanity , the news papers pay no taxes and others read the negative programming that sells millions of papers, they pay no tax, and don’t have to,

Reply Report comment

I worked for a legal charity and because of the cut in the hourly fees made by the Legal Services Commission in 2010-2011 the organisation with its 33 offices and staff of over 350 in England and Scotland went into administration. The cut was partly due to the private paid lawyers whose fees were exorbitant due to ‘padding’. We were taken out of business because of them.

Reply Report comment
Secret Pupil

That’s not a true or fair statement. There are those that have done really well off of legal aid but that’s not a reflection of the entire profession.
I’m a pupil and promise you that life at the junior end of the criminal bar is a struggle. But still we press on! Also your issue isn’t with greedy lawyers but more so the previous legal aid structure. Since then, legal aid has been cut so drastically that the vulnerable people in our society cant get access to vital legal representation. As a result we have the tragedy above.

Reply Report comment

A truly awful situation. Vulnerable members of society b/c they are effectively being prevented from having their voices heard and holding the housing to account by cuts to LA. Those children didn’t choose to be housed in a high rise tower block and placed in danger. The way that fire spread from the footage and the time line you don’t have to be an expert to know there were serious failings. But I get the feeling this will be brushed over and people paid compensation to keep quiet again. There should be a statutory requirement to consult with fire safety experts and a full and comprehensive report every time the council want to cram families in a huge concrete block. I say that because nobody chooses to live there with their kids in danger.

Reply Report comment
Deborah Hawkins

What the Tories have done over the past few years has trampled on the sick, disabled and the poor, sanctions, people being forced out of disabled homes (including myself) and made to move because of bedroom tax, I am now 183 miles away from my family. Forced to live in unacceptable situations and properties, benefits slashed, rigorous checks to the point of being intimidating and assessors actually NOT reporting the facts as told and seen, so that ATOS, CAPITAS, AND MAXIMUS get their money but those with chronic sickness have to appeal and go to tribunal level, and because they appeal their benefits are stopped, absolutely disgusting. I am so ashamed of the Tory party and the way our country treat the most vulnerable people in society. Grenfell tower and what happened there broke my heart , as far as I know no fire alarm went off and if it did it was not loud enough to wake others up, no sprinkler system? no escape, WTF? heart wrenching and cant wait to hear the report when its completed at the lack of total incompetence and what excuses come up.

Reply Report comment

Yet a Radical Cleric who spouts hatred to the British people has been awarded nearly £124,000 pounds LA to fight his deportation 😡😡😡 this country needs to get its priorities right surely 😡😡😡

Reply Report comment

I have to agree with a lot if not all of the above however there is ALWAYS an opinion to the contrary(not necessarily mine)
It could (possibly!!) Be argued that with the advent of the ‘ambulance chasing scumbags’
& no win no fee lawyers( another disease like obesity! caught from our cousins across the pond) That SOMETHING!! Had to be done, I don’t have any figures but I’m sure the legal insiders on here could get them!!!?!

Reply Report comment
Moira Cameron

We’re missing the issue here .
Families have died lost everything there children mother’s fathers
What kind of world do we live in the 21st century this shouldn’t happen.
Put your self in their position for 5 minutes .
Can you imagine what these people where going through .
No and you never will .
Before you write these comments try to reflex on rhat day.
Be thankful that you have your family beside you.
God bless to all the families 💖💖💖

Reply Report comment

Moira it is important to discuss the issues and for people to voice their opinions. I think it goes without saying that this is a tragic situation and everyone is thinking about all those affected and lots of people from lawyers to members of the public are trying to help. There will be a public inquiry and this should produce answers. We are posting our thoughts and opinions here on a legal blog and so the posts are written for that purpose and not generally messages of condolences which can be found on numerous other platforms aplenty. Your comment that people posting on here are not reflecting on what has happened is rubbish in my opinion.

Reply Report comment

Let me make a suggestion. If a council undertakes works, such as the “improvements” made in Grenfell Tower, they should be made to sign off a list of “must have” safety requirements and other important building regs issues before commissioning the project.
As an example:
Are fire alarms fitted to each flat?
Does the building have sprinklers?
Does the staircase have a safety lobby design to prevent ingress of smoke and fire?
Is the outside cladding fire safe?
If a fire breaks out in a flat, can it be contained for a reasonable period?
Are there fire extinguishers in each flat?
Are fire drills carried out annually(say)?
etc etc.
This would prevent councils always going to the lowest bidder as, in the event of a tradegy such as Grenfell, we know who would carry the can.

Reply Report comment

Before a lawyer is needed for pro bono for suing in class actions, perhaps residents want another place to live, clothes and other basic home necessities, arrangements to replace all ID’s/important documents left in their burn down homes, an investigation report, and insurance compensation (if applicable), etc.

Reply Report comment

Rights. The right to decent housing, the right to be safe, the right for children, the elderly and the sick to be housed in appropriate low rise buildings, the right to legal representation, to a decent education, to health care, to freedom of expression, to a job, childcare and early years provision and to be valued as a citizen regardless of age, gender, colour, ehtnicity or belief. These are basic rights but how many of us have them? Austerity is an excuse to punish the poor and reward the rich, it is the most fake news around.

Reply Report comment

It doesn’t matter what County you live in, if you’re in a major city or rural area. Where you were born how old you are if you aren’t wealthy you aren’t entitled to decent housing, a good local school or a health care service where you can get an appointment when you are in genuine need. On top of that benefit cuts are forcing more & more into poverty even for those who are working as much as they can to fit around their children with out having to pay extortionate childcare costs for childcare places that are hard to get. The fact is this country is a mess & being run by a government who are havent set a foot in reality between the lot of them.
Surely this tragedy should make them see that they need to put money into local councils to provide safe, suitable housing for all.
Or bring in a law that a person can only own have 1 home, that would solve a lot of the housing problems

Reply Report comment

Not going to lie, I am a lawyer, and would love to help… However, I can’t help but feel that most lawyers are now offering their services as the defenders, presumably the Council/private landlords, would in fact pay their fees in the event of a successful case. The lawyers will still get paid. Success will rest on whether the fire was foreseeable and, given what is flying around the media, this wouldn’t be too difficult (on the civil test of balance of probabilities at least) to prove, providing the sources are accurate.

Reply Report comment

People lost there lives didn’t need to wen a lot more could have been done and some body is guilty of ther lives
Naw get the bastard that did and make him or her pay and I send my condolences to all the families involved

Reply Report comment
Pat Gravell

Did you check the Legal Aid rules before you wrote this? I’d be the first to criticise LASPO for taking certain housing problems out of scope of Legal Aid but as I know safety issues remain in scope. Read LASPO 2012 part 1 para 35 ”
Risk to health or safety in rented home

35(1)Civil legal services provided to an individual in relation to the removal or reduction of a serious risk of harm to the health or safety of the individual or a relevant member of the individual’s family where—
(a)the risk arises from a deficiency in the individual’s home,

(b)the individual’s home is rented or leased from another person, and

(c)the services are provided with a view to securing that the other person makes arrangements to remove or reduce the risk.


(2)Sub-paragraph (1) is subject to—

(a)the exclusions in Part 2 of this Schedule, with the exception of paragraphs 6 and 8 of that Part, and

(b)the exclusion in Part 3 of this Schedule.


(3)For the purposes of this paragraph—

(a)a child is a relevant member of an individual’s family if the individual is the child’s parent or has parental responsibility for the child;

(b)an adult (“A”) is a relevant member of an individual’s family if—

(i)they are relatives (whether of the full blood or half blood or by marriage or civil partnership) or cohabitants, and

(ii)the individual’s home is also A’s home.

(4)In this paragraph—

“adult” means a person aged 18 or over;
“building” includes part of a building;
“child” means a person under the age of 18;
“cohabitant” has the same meaning as in Part 4 of the Family Law Act 1996 (see section 62(1) of that Act);
“deficiency” means any deficiency, whether arising as a result of the construction of a building, an absence of maintenance or repair, or otherwise;
“harm” includes temporary harm;
“health” includes mental health;
“home”, in relation to an individual, means the house, caravan, houseboat or other vehicle or structure that is the individual’s only or main residence, together with any garden or ground usually occupied with it.”

So as far as I understand it this remained in scope subject to the usual “means test”. Finding Legal aid solicitors with the capacity to take on cases is another matter but please do not perpetuate the myth that risks to safety in a rented home are out of scope of Legal Aid as this may deter others with similar problems from trying to get a lawyer. My comments relate to getting a home made safe, not about obtaining compensation after the event, just to be clear.

Reply Report comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.