02:57, August 19 263 0 theguardian.com

2019-08-19 02:57:04
My working week  'Authorities say my 15-year-old client is 27 and want to deport him': my job as a legal aid lawyer


I’m a legal aid lawyer. My job is to help people challenge decisions made by local authorities and government departments: I mostly work with children in the UK who are on their own and seeking asylum, and who have had their ages disbelieved.

Today I help a 15-year-old boy. The local authority deems him to be 27. He was moved out of foster care, put into an immigration detention centre and told he was going to be removed from the UK. He’s now living in asylum accommodation with adults who don’t speak his language. The only thing he can cook is an egg. I arrange to pick him up from the nearest station because he won’t be able to find our office on his own. I don’t know when he last had something to eat, so I buy him food before we start our appointment. None of this is covered by legal aid.


I get a call from a woman I’m helping who tells me she’s had a baby girl. She’s a single mum with a No recourse to public funds (NRPF) condition on her immigration status. She has been working 60-70 hours a week doing night shifts on a zero-hours contract but had to stop because of her mental health. She is at risk of being evicted for rent arrears.

I leave the office feeling stressed. I need to get the 15-year-old’s case in with the courts but there’s a lot of paperwork to do and I’m relying on other people to provide documents.


I spend the morning with our youth worker getting ready for tonight’s session with our youth group. The group has been running for 11 years as a place for young people to meet others in a similar situation, and is an attempt to combat the isolation that gnaws away at so many of them. We plan games to help them explain how it feels to have your age disbelieved.

In the afternoon I finally get my 15-year-old client’s documents to the court. It’s a big relief. The group arrives; some are fasting so we wait until the apps on their phones go off telling them they can break fast before we share dates, pizza and crisps together.

Many of them are originally from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Eritrea. They’ve been through things I will never face but they’re still teenagers, and they berate me for my lack of sporting knowledge.


My desk is surrounded by piles of files. I have to step over them to get to my chair and then I’m barricaded in. I spend the day sorting out my backlog of legal aid billing. Our charity only gets paid by the Legal Aid Agency at the end of someone’s case. We get a fixed fee of £259 per file unless I spend three times the allowed hours, then I can bill at an hourly rate. Right now I’ve got 39 open files. I make a pot of coffee; it’s going to be a long day.


My morning cycle to work was supposed to leave me fresh for the day but within five minutes I’m worried about getting everything done before the weekend. It’s hard to prioritise when everything is urgent.

At the end of the day I manage to connect one of the young people I am supporting with a local cricket team – another child whose age has been disbelieved. He’s thrilled. He’s having a tough time living in adult accommodation in a part of town where, as a young man from Afghanistan, he sticks out. I got him a donated bike last week, but it’s been stolen already. I fill out the cricket forms with him. It asks for his next of kin. We have to put down my number as he has no one else. I go home worrying about what would happen if something bad ever happened to him – who would know if it did?

Laura Gibbons is a public law solicitor at Greater Manchester immigration aid unit

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