Bay of Plenty's only community law centre is facing an uncertain future .
Baywide Community Law Service has learned it could face closure next year due to a reduction of funding and service from the Ministry of Justice.
The Ministry of Justice funds 28 law centres across New Zealand, but from June 2013, it will only fund 10 contracts - forcing many community law centres to consider merging to create a larger centre, including Baywide in Tauranga.
"We have to go bigger" says managing solicitor, Jan Beange, "and if we go bigger, we are supposed to be more cost effective. But we already are cost effective"
Baywide Community Law Service employs nine permanent staff and has 20 volunteers who offer free legal help to residents and organisations in the Bay of Plenty.
Baywide holds two offices in Tauranga and Whakatane, and has outreach clinics in Opotiki, Te Kaha, Kawerau, Matata, Te Puke, Katikati and Waihi.
It receives a base fund of nearly $440,000 and delivers 5600 hours of legal representation, assistance, advice, information and law related education, and in the last year, Baywide assisted 5271 clients.
But now Baywide faces uncertainty as it awaits further news from the Ministry of Justice.
"We are becoming quite concerned that it is putting the community at risk," Ms Beange said. "There is a risk that unless the Ministry does not do this properly, some areas may be missing out."
Baywide is in discussion with community centres in Hamilton and Rotorua, but they fear Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty residents seeking legal assistance may lose adequate representation.
"We are not opposed to regionalisation but we want to make sure Tauranga gets service on an even basis" Ms Beange said.