Civil legal aid – invest now to stop system dying out

We’re calling on the justice secretary, Alex Chalk KC, to urgently invest £11.3 million to stop legal aid from completely vanishing at a time when millions of people are struggling with debt, housing costs and the cost-of-living crisis.

Early legal advice plays a vital role in preventing problems from escalating, helping to reduce homelessness, repossession and related mental health issues.

But early advice is vanishing and people cannot get the advice they need when they need it most.

The last decade has seen a 77% drop in civil legal aid cases started, largely due to cuts to what’s covered by legal aid, but also because the areas left in scope are not financially viable for providers.

Without early advice, more people and families could be made homeless, fall further into debt or be left without the welfare benefits they need to live.

Following a campaign by the Law Society, the government is conducting a long-overdue review into the sustainability of civil legal aid, from March 2023 to late 2024.

See the latest updates on the civil legal aid review

But the government’s review is not expected to report until 2024, and any recommendations will take even longer to carry out.

“To sustain the civil legal aid system until this time, the justice secretary must implement an interim 15% increase (£11.3 million) for providers of early legal advice now,” said Law Society immediate past president Lubna Shuja.

What we’re doing

In our evidence submission to the review (PDF 1.8 MB), we’ve detailed the problems with civil legal aid that mean it is failing to meet its primary objective of delivering access to justice. These include:

  • fee levels – fees for civil legal aid work have not been increased for 28 years. We are calling for an urgent interim increase of a minimum of 15% for work undertaken at the early advice stage, whilst the government considers what more is required to make the system more effective and sustainable
  • lack of data and insight – the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Legal Aid Agency (LAA) must implement an access to justice data strategy to ensure that it is collecting the right data to support risk management and the future strategic planning of services, and to understand the legal needs of those eligible for legal aid
  • bureaucracy – excessive bureaucracy is a major problem for legal aid providers and a disincentive for undertaking legal aid work. It creates largely unremunerated administrative costs and diverts scarce resources away from the core task of assisting clients
  • recruitment and retention – salaries are low, and caseloads are high. This makes it difficult to recruit staff at a senior level, whilst trainees are likely to leave shortly after qualification to pursue careers with better salaries and work-life balance. The MoJ should develop a strategy to make legal aid careers more attractive
  • intersectionality of issues is not realistically reflected in the current regime – people often experience clusters of problems relating to several areas of law which cannot be addressed within the existing restrictive legal aid framework

We called on the government to address these issues as part of its review of civil legal aid.

In addition to our evidence submission, we ran six roundtables with the MoJ and legal aid providers across the country to give our members the opportunity to explain the problems they experience directly to officials.

We also submitted evidence on the sustainability of housing legal aid provision, based on extensive qualitative research with legal aid providers looking at their cost base and revenues.

Read the full research

We are now working with our research providers to look at the sustainability of family legal aid provision.

If you are a family legal aid practitioner and would like to take part in this research, sign up by 1 March.

Campaign highlights

We know it’s important to you that access to justice and the rules of fair play are protected. The Law Society amplifies the powerful collective voice of more than 200,000 solicitors to fight for government investment in a justice system that is available for all.

August 2023 – we publish our interim submission to the review of civil legal aid (PDF 871 KB), calling for an immediate fee increase for legal advice pending the outcome of the review

May 2023 – we welcomed the means test review and extension of civil legal aid to special guardians, but call on government to go further

March 2023 – we updated our maps on civil legal aid deserts in England and Wales to mark 10 years since LASPO was passed

January 2023 – our poll showed 90% voters in the UK support legal aid

December 2022 – we analysed data that suggests the number civil legal aid providers starting work could drop by a third by 2025

October 2022 – we listed fixing the justice system as our top recommendation for new prime minister, Rishi Sunak

September 2021 – we published our own review on the system’s sustainability, including eight recommendations on what the government should focus on in a formal review

May 2021 – we issued a judicial review against the Legal Aid Agency and lord chancellor, over changes to costs assessments that were made without proper consultation

2019 – we published heatmaps to identify places facing legal aid advice deserts for community care, education, housing, immigration and asylum, and welfare

September 2018 – we submitted evidence to the post-implementation review of LASPO, stressing that legal aid is no longer available for many who need it

June 2018 – our research on the benefits of early legal advice with Ipsos-MORI showed a clear statistical link between people getting early advice and resolving problems sooner

November 2017 – we launched our campaign on early legal advice, which is cited in multiple parliamentary discussions on the future of legal aid

2017 – we first call for an independent review into the sustainability of the civil legal aid system, following a 37% drop in the number of providers after massive legal aid cuts were introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO)

Get involved

If you’re a legal professional, we’d like you to share examples of the damage that legal aid deserts have caused in your local area.


Share our messages on social media 

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS