£11.3m emergency investment needed for early legal advice providers
The Law Society of England and Wales is today (29 August) 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. It helps to reduce homelessness, repossession and related mental health issues.
Yet the last decade has seen a drop of 77% in new legal aid cases. This decline is largely due to cuts to areas of legal aid, but also because it is not financially viable for providers to offer this any longer.*
Civil legal aid fees have not increased since 1996, representing a real-terms cut of 49.4% in fees to 2022.
“Early legal advice is vanishing and people are unable to get the advice they need when they need it most. The government’s review of civil legal aid is not expected to report until 2024, with any recommendations taking even longer to implement. To sustain the civil legal aid system until this time, the justice secretary must urgently implement an interim 15% increase (£11.3 million) for providers of early legal advice now,” said Law Society president Lubna Shuja.
“Law Society analysis suggests that the number of civil legal aid providers could drop by a third by 2025, leaving many without access to a lawyer when they desperately need one.
“High inflation and the cost-of-living crisis is making it harder to get by day-to-day in the UK. If you add to that a family facing eviction, bankruptcy or fighting for welfare benefits to stay afloat, early advice is needed now more than ever.”
The Law Society’s legal advice desert maps** for England and Wales show:
- 25.3m people (42%) do not have access to a local legal aid provider for housing advice, a figure that has grown 5% since 2019
- 53m people (90%) do not have access to a local education legal aid provider
- 49.8m people (84%) do not have access to a local welfare legal aid provider
The government’s statistics*** also show that there has been more than a decade of decline in civil legal aid.
Lubna Shuja concluded: “The knock-on effect of austerity cuts and neglect means there are areas where legal aid advice is not available or there is only one legal aid provider covering a huge area.
“As a backbench MP and junior minister, Alex Chalk KC has a proud record of supporting early legal advice as a cost-effective way to increase access to justice. As justice secretary, now is the moment for him to throw that support behind making sure it is available to everyone who needs it.
“Without early legal advice, more people and families could be made homeless, fall further into debt or be left without the welfare benefits they desperately need.
“In the long-term, the government’s review must deliver the investment that is essential to shore up the sustainability of civil legal aid.”
Notes to editors
*The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 removed large areas of legal aid from scope. There were cuts to social welfare, private law (children) and family cases where domestic violence is not present. This led to a reduction in early advice cases. However, the reduction in cases can also be seen in areas where scope was not cut. Community care cases have seen early advice reduce by 77% since LASPO. This suggests this is due to the low fees paid for the work.
***Data taken from Legal aid statistics England and Wales bulletin Jan to March 2023. Between 2012-2013, there were 573,770 cases started in family, immigration, mental health and other non-family. In 2022-2023, there were 130,799 case starts in the same areas. Statistics cited are from Table 5.1.
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