Immigration legal aid: consultation for new fees for new services – Law Society response
The consultation focussed on fees for:
- online appeals in the First Tier Tribunal (FTT)
- new services required under the Nationality and Borders Act
The MoJ’s main proposals were:
- conducting fixed fees for appeals under the FTT online appeals procedure
- assessing the fixed fee ‘escape threshold’ separately for legal help and controlled legal representation (CLR)
- lowering the CLR threshold to twice the fixed fee
- providing an initial seven hours of non-means, non-merits tested advice on Priority Removal Notices, continuable where clients are eligible for legal aid or exceptional case funding
- a £75 ‘bolt on’ fee to advise existing clients who may have been victims of modern slavery on referral to the National Referral Network (NRM)
- specific advice on rebutting a Home Office notice of intention to confer the lesser ‘Group 2’ refugee status
In our response, we questioned the adequacy of the proposed fixed fees for the online appeals procedure, and the robustness of the data the MoJ used to set the proposed fixed fee.
We called for the government to:
- maintain the existing hourly rates arrangement
- lower the ‘escape threshold’ for legal help to twice the fixed fee, in line with the CLR proposal
For the new services implemented by the Nationality and Borders Act, we argued that the bolt-on fee of £75 for NRM referral advice was wholly inadequate and should be increased.
We also questioned the sector’s capacity to take up these new workstreams, given the wider sustainability issues resulting, in the main, from fees which have not increased since the 1990s.
What the changes mean
In its response to the consultation, the government acknowledges that the fee for NRM referral advice was too low. We welcome the increase from £75 to £150.
We’re also pleased that the government has accepted our argument that the escape fee threshold of twice the fixed fee should be extended to legal help, as well as CLR.
However, we remain concerned:
- by the level of fixed fees for appeals
- that hourly rate payments will be discontinued
- about capacity to provide the new services and the overall sustainability of immigration and asylum legal aid
The Legal Aid Agency will consult on the contract amendments needed to implement these changes.