A LAW centre that gives people on low incomes free legal help will be able to expand its work into family and discrimination cases thanks to a Wiltshire Community Foundation grant.

Wiltshire Law Centre, which supports people from all over the county with free advice and representation, has been awarded £5,000 a year for the next three years from the new Community Fund, which helps grass roots groups and charities that make life better for people in their area. More than £100,000 has been given to groups in the first round of grants.

Olivia Crowther, managing director of the charity in Sanford Street, Swindon, said its three full-time and two part-time case workers are kept busy with housing cases but demand for representation with family and discrimination work is rising.

“All we do currently is housing work and that seems like a real shame because we should be a law centre and not just a housing law centre,” she said.

“We are absolutely inundated with requests for family work - the court has asked us to start doing it - so we have decided to extend into that area as well. Citizens Advice in Swindon and Wiltshire are telling us they are getting a lot of these cases and there is no one else to take them on.”

She is moving one case worker who has experience of discrimination and equality work into that area and is recruiting more staff to plug the gap and take on family work.

“We already do discrimination work within a housing context but this will be branching out into the areas of employment, consumer and education,” she said. “Regarding family law, Legal Aid is only available for matrimonial and custody cases in the case of domestic abuse but the court is desperate for non-molestation orders so that will be a big part of what we do I suspect, as well as proceedings where local authority is seeking a care order against a parent.”

The centre, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, takes on cases that are covered by Legal Aid but is one of the few organisations doing so in the South West. “There’s nothing apart from us between London and Bristol,” said Mrs Crowther.

Case workers travel to see clients in places like Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury as well as visit them in their own homes. “We also do a lot more phone consultations now, which is a more efficient use of our time,” said Mrs Crowther.

She wants to work with law centres, other funders and universities to find more solicitors and case workers willing to work in the sector. “It’s a personal goal of mine because there is a real lack of capacity, we are in the middle of a Legal Aid desert here in Wiltshire,” she said.

The grant will help the law centre get its new casework up and running and cover costs for the six-month gap between work being done and Legal Aid payments coming through.

“We need seed money to help us transition into these areas and that’s really where Wiltshire Community Foundation have come in and provided us with that bridge so that we can move into this other area of law and extend our services. It’s been a crying shame that people have called us up with a request for help and we have had to say ‘we don’t do that’,” she said.

Wiltshire Community Foundation chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “It’s crucial that people on lower incomes have the same access to good legal advice and representation as everyone else. I am delighted that the generosity of our donors means we can support important work like this.”

Applications are open for the next round of Community Fund grants, which offer up to £5,000 for a maximum of three years. To find out more eligibility and how to apply, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk/grants-and-support/groups.