May is here once again and, once again, a team from ASIRT will be taking part in the Birmingham Legal Walk, supporting the Midland Legal Support Trust’s aim of improving access to justice for the most vulnerable in society.
Successive cuts to legal aid budgets and austerity measures have served to severely restrict the ability of severely disadvantaged individuals and families across the UK, leaving ever more people at risk of destitution, and the risks to health and wellbeing that come with it. Birmingham, in which more than 50% of children are now regarded as living in poverty, has felt the impacts of these austerity measures particularly acutely, with the local authority struggling to provide the advice and legal rights sector with the financial support it needs to help ensure its citizens’ survival
As a consequence, agencies like ASIRT, and the families we work with, are more dependent on the Trust’s support than ever, to make real difference to people’s lives.
Just this week, for example, we have been working with ‘Sarina’. She is from Sudan, and is the single mother of 2 very young British children. Sarina is in the UK on a spousal visa, which denies her recourse to public funds.
All of which was fine, until 4 months ago her husband, on whose earnings the whole family was dependent, very suddenly passed away.
Instantly, Sarina and her children, as well as having to cope with the grief of their bereavement, found themselves at risk of homelessness and destitution. Sarina has been unable to pay the rent on the family’s home and, presently having no recourse to public funds, has no legal right to take on the tenancy anyway.
As the bereaved spouse of a British citizen, she is eligible to apply to the Home Office for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK, allowing her the security she will need to look after her children. The Home Office, however, charges an eye-watering £2,389 – money, of course, that Sabrina simply doesn’t have, being presently unable even to make rent.
Presenting in these desperate circumstances, ASIRT initially made a referral to the Children’s Trust for an assessment of need to be undertaken under section 17 of the Children Act.
And, as it so often the case in these times of restricted funds to statutory service, this referral was refused, on the basis that the Trust was not satisfied that the family was destitute. This necessitated the threat of legal action. ASIRT wrote a ‘pre-action’ letter to the Trust, outlining the ways in which we considered the refusal to assess a breach of the Trust’s section 17 duties.
Again, as is so frequently the case in the face of informed advocacy, the Trust then withdrew its original decision, and has commenced its assessment process, with a view to providing appropriate interim support to prevent the children’s homelessness and destitution.
ASIRT, in the meantime, is in the process of seeking to apply to the National Zakat Foundation, in the hope of raising the money to fund Sarina’s Indefinite Leave to Remain application, and thus securing the family’s future.
From there, we will assist Sarina with the application’s submission, help her to provide any necessary supporting documents, and deal with any questions or challenges presented to her by the Home Office- all absolutely free of charge.
We will, in other words, provide Sarina and her children with a holistic, rights-based package of support, to ensure the best possible outcome for them during this stressful time of transition and loss, making a real and tangible difference to their lives.
And none of this would be possible without the financial support we receive from bodies like the MLST.
So, if you can, please support us by donating to the walk on Monday.