Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, is considering the future of its advice centres in Taunton and Gloucester, following Government cuts to legal aid which will halve its funding for the face-to-face centres.
The charity, which is running a campaign to end the housing crisis, is consulting its staff and local authorities in areas which could be affected. Eight centres across England are being reviewed. Gloucester and Taunton are the only two in the South West which could be affected.
The charity’s free, national telephone advice line – 0808 800 4444 – will still be available.
Shelter says that every two minutes someone in the UK faces losing their home. Around 36,000 homes were repossessed in the UK in 2010.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “We are currently consulting staff on the impact to their services of the Government’s decision to make huge cuts to legal aid in England, which we campaigned vigorously against. The cuts will mean a reduction of 50 per cent in our funding to support our face-to-face advice services.
“If these services have to close as a result of cuts to legal aid, this will be a massive blow not only to our staff, but to the people in the affected areas who will no longer be able to get face-to-face advice and support from Shelter.
“We will be doing all we can to ensure people around the country can still get help with their housing problems through our helpline and website.
“With the ongoing recession, benefit cuts, and the high cost of housing meaning more and more people struggling to keep a roof over their heads, now is the very worst time to be taking away the housing safety net that helps people stay in their homes.”
Councillor Ric Pallister, Leader of South Somerset District Council, said the knock-on-effect of the advice centre closure could be more homelessness. He said: “It is going to be a degradation of service coming at a time when the full impact of changes to council tax benefit and welfare benefits etc as we move towards universal credit will be felt. We expect the demand for advice to rise quite dramatically.”
A Mendip District Council spokesman said: “Mendip District Council has enjoyed a long and successful working relationship with Shelter and it would be a loss to Somerset if they were to close their operations in the county.
“If Shelter Somerset does close, it is likely there would be a small increase in the number of enquiries to staff in the council’s housing department, but we are confident we could deal with these extra enquiries without any problem.”