Tenants' case failed to interest lawyers: When a group of Salford council tenants sought legal advice only the law centre took their claim seriously

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The Independent Online
WHEN Salford City Council told Ann Hamilton she would have to move out of the maisonette where she had lived for seven years, she was determined to fight back.

At first, however, it proved difficult. 'We went to an advice bureau, to the local councillors and to solicitors - nobody was interested,' she said. Only Salford Law Centre would take up the case.

In a series of meetings with workers at the centre, Mrs Hamilton and seven of her neighbours began to piece together their claim. Most had moved into maisonettes on Islington Estate, Salford, more than 20 years ago, and had watched their families grow up there. But last year, the council said it was modernising the homes, which would then be handed to younger families. The existing tenants were given a choice: move off the estate, or stay there, but live in a flat.

Last week a council spokesperson said the maisonettes were being turned into houses, which would not be suitable for the tenants now living there.

Mrs Hamilton, who lives next door to her mother, Margaret Ginder, said: 'It's just not right to be told to go after living here that amount of years. Morally it's wrong.'

She says her mother has suffered three heart attacks and could not cope with the stairs she would need to climb to reach a flat on the estate.

But the law centre believes council officers failed to consult properly, a failure which could give tenants the right to stay in their maisonettes. The issue is disputed by the council and could end up either in the courts or with the local government ombudsman. Yet Mrs Hamilton says that without the law centre, the point would never have tested.

Workers at the centre say their grants have been cut heavily in the last two years and expect further reductions next spring. They are also worried they might not receive any money from the council. If that is the case, the law centre would have to rely on legal aid work, leaving clients in Mrs Hamilton's position with little support and no access to the legal system.

(Photograph omitted)