Wednesday, 27 June 2012


On to the new and modern library next to Hackney Town Hall. It is my turn to do the new legal surgery that has popped up like a mushroom, with all this unprecedented June rain, but now we have sunshine- and me sweltering in my three piece suit.

The library on the first floor is light and airy, a sort of hangar full of books as far as the eye can see. Miranda moves skilfully up a staircase occupied by at least two classes of six year olds, but I get bogged down on account of my big leather pilot bag, filled with pens and calculators.

Still, it's nice to know that in this day and age this many kids are getting access to so many books for free.

We put up our shingle, set up the chairs, and as if by magic thirteen people people turn up for a bit of advice.

There are one or two cases of small claims by prospective tenants jilted of holding deposits by estate agents on arbitrary grounds. I try to help with drafting and explain small claims procedure, but belatedly realise that you can't cram too much information into 10 minutes. I help fill forms in, but my handwriting is far from perfect.

There are several cases of benefit problems where we are able to advise people about who to phone and what to do. This feels a bit like cheating in some cases, because sometimes you know that when you give a piece of paper or a phone number to a confused human being you're just giving them the brush-off.

I speak to Betty who won her disability appeal two months ago, after a year's delay. The Judge says he believes her and the refusal letter is invalid. Still they will not pay her benefits. I write a sharp note.

That should do the trick then.

Benny was injured when he lost a leg in one of our wars, the side he was on when he lost it isn't too relevant, but the ghastly injury is. He may lose his small one bedroom flat because he is under 35 and and the new Housing Benefit caps are kicking in. Under the new rules he is expected to share a flat with other young young spring chickens his age, and Housing Benefit is capped at £92.13.

The Housing Benefit cap makes little allowance for his fever dreams, his biterness, the reason no-one wants to share with him because he is still in pain and haunted by ghosts.

Alice notes my pony-tail and suggests I might be interested in the Slimelight club in Angel , spiritual home of all Goths. I tell her that I used to be a member but haven't had much of a social life recently. Briefly we trade make-up and wardobe tips (the velvet frock-coat or the PVC?).

Agnes, a heavily pregnant teenager turned out by her mother tells me she went to Newham Homeless Person Unit and was told that she was not in priority need until the baby is born (lies), then to Hackney who told her she had to be living locally for six months before she can apply (not strictly correct). She's managing to stick to it in college even while she sofa-surfs.

Overall, mostly a nice bunch of people. I feel I can't avoid taking several cases and blank out the voice shouting at me in my head about the pile of unanswered correspondence on my desk back at the office.

So then...

We're putting up a free pop-up service on a trial basis on a Monday afternoon. After 6 sessions we've seen about 75 people. There is clearly a need. Some of the signposting we do is valuable in itself for your more switched on types, some people groan when they realise they're going to have to battle through to this or that faceless agency, and more people than we can cope with would benefit form some further advice or representation for complex matters.

The bad news? As Legal Aid is all but vanishing next year from social welfare law, it makes no sense to hatch up schemes to give yet more advice for free, does it? I mean, aren't we tilting at windmills?

The good news? Like Baldrick in Black Adder, we have a cunning plan.



  1. Thank you, Nathaniel, for soldiering on to support so many, many people who desperately need your legal advice. Just to know there is a lawyer who truly cares and will listen to their woes is in itself a huge gift.
    Last week-end I was down in Ormond Beach for your grand mother Rosie's funeral; your words, "She was a fountain of love," were oft quoted. That says it all. Amidst the grief & sadness of these final good-byes, it was so good to be with your mother and her sibs. They are all amazing.
    I hope to see Andrew & Kaia & their boys later this summer.

  2. You always did have a cunning plan my pony-tailed amigo. So happy to see the fight continues on at HCLC too.