Civil legal aid: millions still without access to justice

New research published by the Law Society of England and Wales reveals millions are still unable to access justice when they need it, as charities and small firms struggle to keep legal aid afloat.

In its response to the call for evidence for the Civil Legal Aid Review, the Law Society has called on the UK government to urgently increase the fees paid for civil legal aid work, which have not risen for 28 years, to ensure providers remain in the market and people can access their right to legal advice.

New interactive maps* show the vanishing availability of legal aid across housing, welfare, education, community care and immigration. This is a result of stringent and successive government cuts to legal aid alongside stagnant fees paid for expert advice provided by the remaining charities and small firms.

People living in areas without a major city are particularly badly hit. The southwest, north, northeast and east are bereft in almost all areas of law, the same can also be said for the south and southeast outside of London. Wales also has very sparse coverage.

Across England and Wales:

  • 53m people (90%) do not have access to a local education legal aid provider
  • 50.6m people (84.9%) do not have access to a local welfare legal aid provider
  • 42m people (70.8%) do not have access to a local community care legal aid provider
  • 37.5m people (63%) do not have access to a local immigration and asylum legal aid provider
  • 25.9m people (43.6%) do not have access to a local legal aid provider for housing advice, an increase of 6.6% since 2019.

Law Society of England and Wales president Nick Emmerson said: “Housing civil legal aid providers tell us** they feel exhausted and overworked. They are routinely working grossly excessive hours and cross-subsidising from other parts of their businesses to keep legal aid work going.

“These maps lay bare the impact of this across all areas of law and throughout the country where legal aid is becoming untenable for more and more of the charities and small firms providing it. The government’s own statistics show that 40% of providers will leave the sector in the next five years.***

“Ultimately, when this happens, it's the public who pay the price – unable to access their right to free legal advice. In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, this is a serious concern.

“Starving the system of resources is penny wise and pound foolish. It would not take a huge sum of money in terms of overall public expenditure to tackle the crisis and the savings in other areas from solving people’s problems early would more than offset the cost.

“We urge the government to use its Civil Legal Aid Review to invest in the system and ensure there is a future for this vital public service.”

Notes to editors

* View our interactive legal aid desert maps showing providers by local authority area (copyright: Law Society of England and Wales):

housing legal aid

welfare legal aid

education legal aid

community care legal aid

immigration legal aid

infographic showing the decline of civil legal aid

The heat maps were compiled from the directory of legal aid providers which is published by the Legal Aid Agency.

** Read the Research on the sustainability of civil legal aid interim report. The Law Society’s call for evidence response is available upon request.

*** Read the MoJ’s Survey of civil legal aid providers in England and Wales.

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Press office contact: Naomi Jeffreys | 020 8049 3928

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