Host Organisation: Release

Winnie Schmidt

Winnie first joined Release as a legal volunteer in summer of 2017 and became a trainee solicitor through the Justice First Fellowship in January 2019. She has a passion for working directly with vulnerable communities; over her time with Release she has gained experience in welfare benefits, housing, and debt law.

Born in the USA and raised in the UK, Winnie earned a BA in Sociology from Reed College, Oregon, USA. She moved back to London in 2011 and started work in the PR industry, first for Brixton Market Traders Federation CIC and then moving into music PR. She developed a passion for law and studied at the University of Law in London, where she earned a distinction on her Legal Practice Course.

She looks forward to continuing work toward increasing access to justice and pursuing a career in social welfare law. In her spare time she enjoys listening to podcasts, learning languages, and producing music.

Project

I propose to create a legal outreach programme for women who are engaging with a domestic violence refuge in London. The aim of the project would be to provide the service users with empowerment through access to resolution of the legal issues that hinder their financial and personal independence.

This is an extremely vulnerable population who will have varied legal needs. The personal legal matters they may have might include applying for benefits or appealing decisions, debt negotiation, accessing housing services and housing benefits, or even changing regular payments in their name from a joint bank account.

I will run a legal clinic where women can seek advice, advocacy and negotiation for financial and practical legal matters that may stem from their living situation. In addition, aim to run monthly group education sessions focusing on non-individualised legal matters to work toward sustainable legal independence.

This project will complement the services provided by my host organisation, Release. Release provides legal advice and assistance to individuals with a history of problematic substance use. Victims of domestic violence may experience an exacerbation in their substance use as a result of their situation and can be vulnerable to further complications with their legal issues. For instance in 2017, 5.6% of women who are rehoused after refuge were evicted but this number rose to 25.4% within the cohort of women with substance use support needs.

Women's refuges can provide emotional support, immediate shelter and counselling. A legal clinic complements these services not only by providing legal assistance to help a survivor to become further independent but also to provide her with the belief that she has the right to access justice.

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