The Covid-19 emergency has impacted every aspect of society since the early part of the year. At the North East Law Centre (NELC) we made a quick decision to cease face to face advice provision from Monday 16th March 2020 due to several events on our premises that highlighted the potential risks of contracting the disease. Our primary concern was for the welfare of our beneficiaries, the staff and tenants within our shared premises.
From the 18th March, all our staff have been working remotely from home and have continued to provide advice and support primarily via telephone and email, and virtual advice sessions by Zoom/Skype/Whatsapp as appropriate. We have improved our call handling system by adding a mobile number so that clients can call during busy periods and included a dedicated after hour emergency number in response to the increase in reported domestic abuse incidents. The out of hours also provides additional coverage over the weekend, and that has proved beneficial as more clients are now calling the number.
Our staffing capacity has reduced with some colleagues currently on furlough but in the interim, we have been boosted by the incredible support from our amazing volunteers, and we are now proactively recruiting more volunteers. We have invested in upgrading our IT infrastructure that has enabled us to seamlessly deliver our services remotely, and all our staff and volunteers are now fully equipped to work from home.
The demand for our service has continued to increase and we now receive on average 30% more calls per day, and we have seen a sharp increase in Immigration and Asylum, Family, Employment and Welfare Benefits enquiries. Whilst all the enquiries do not result in casework, however, a significant percentage of the increase, clearly relate to support around the Covid-19 emergency, and we able to respond as part of a wider regional support network.
We are conscious that Digital access is not always appropriate for all our beneficiaries and as a result, we have been working with other community-based partners to develop alternative methods of engaging with some of our more vulnerable and hard to reach clients to provide appropriate support.
We have continued to keep up to date with government guidelines and have commenced the initial groundwork that will shape a possible return to office-based work, as and when that becomes more feasible but there are currently numerous health and safety measures to consider, including exploring the implications of operating within an open access building. We plan to work with all our stakeholders including delivery partners and our landlord, to develop a cogent plan for a return to office and face to face advice delivery.
We are extremely grateful to all our funders for their incredible support during this difficult period, and we are indebted to our volunteers and other stakeholders who have remained passionate about our work despite their own priorities.
Thank you for your support