Civil legal aid increasingly out of reach for those in need

There is an urgent need for immediate investment in civil legal aid so people can get legal help for life-changing issues, the Law Society of England and Wales warns as the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announces a long overdue review into the sustainability of civil legal aid contracts.

“The Law Society has called for a review of civil legal aid sustainability for a long time – it’s good to see the UK government is finally making it happen,” said Law Society President Lubna Shuja.

“A well-functioning civil justice system is vital to the economic health and social wellbeing of our country. Legal aid is an essential part of this. We have a justice system that’s the envy of the world, but without investment, it is falling apart.

“Over the past decade the number of legal aid firms has nearly halved, while the number of people struggling to represent themselves in the family courts has trebled and court backlogs are ever increasing.*

“For every civil legal provider that closes its doors, there is a child not getting the education they need, a family facing eviction, fighting for welfare benefits to stay afloat in these turbulent times or a vulnerable person denied access to the care they’re entitled to.”

The Law Society’s legal aid deserts maps show that across England and Wales:

  • 52m people (88%) do not have access to a local education provider
  • 40m (67%) do not have access to a local community care legal aid provider
  • 23.5m (39%) do not have access to a local legal aid provider for housing advice

Lubna Shuja concluded: “Civil legal aid providers are facing an existential crisis without immediate cash investment. Firms have been forced to abandon their contracts as they can no longer face the financial burden.

“The last time fees were increased was in 1996, over 25 years ago. On top of this, the government imposed a further 10% fee-cut in 2011. This represents a real-terms cut of 49.4% in fees to 2022.

“Firms have been closing their legal aid departments year on year, as it’s no longer financially viable, and the number of providers with civil legal aid contracts has been falling.**

“Law Society analysis suggests that the number of providers starting legal aid work could drop by a third by 2025, leaving many without access to a lawyer when they desperately need one.

“We urgently call on the UK government to invest immediately in civil legal aid to shore up access to justice for those in need while the review – which is expected to last two years – takes place.

“We also urge the government to use the review to reduce bureaucracy, examine the scope of legal aid and encourage the next generation of legal aid lawyers to come into the market by making clear there is a future in this vital public service.”

Notes to editors

In 2012 the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) cut funding to legal aid for early legal advice for housing and family law.

Between January and March 2012, there were 3,452 offices starting legal aid work. By the same period in 2022, this had dropped to 1,860.

* Read our report on civil legal aid sustainability and challenges

** Law Society research found there were 3,896 civil legal aid providers started legal aid work across all areas of law in 2011, this had dropped to 2,101 by 2022. Statistics taken from Legal aid statistics quarterly: April to June 2022

Read about the LASPO Act

Find out more about our legal aid desert campaign

Read the MoJ’s announcement on the civil legal aid review

About the Law Society

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Press office contact: Naomi Jeffreys | 020 8049 3928