Legal aid means test changes delayed until 2026

The Law Society of England and Wales has expressed anger at changes to the legal aid means test being delayed until 2026, which shows the UK government is continuing to refuse to commit resources to the justice system.

The legal aid means test* has not been updated in line with inflation since 2009. Since then, prices have risen by 40%. This means fewer people are eligible for legal aid each year and may be unable to access justice.

Our research** shows that people on incomes below the minimum standard are being excluded from legal aid, meaning families living below the poverty line are failing to meet the extremely restrictive thresholds to get legal aid. Another barrier to getting justice is the value of people’s home being taken into account in the means test assessment, even though they cannot access this money.

Our president Nick Emmerson said: “The government is displaying a pattern of behaviour of refusing to commit resources to the justice system resulting in unmet legal need.

“They have already acknowledged there are issues with the current means test, leaving ordinary people without access to justice.

“Frequently blamed for the continued delays is the Legal Aid Agency’s antiquated IT systems – which are causing implementation problems. This is itself evidence of the long-term neglect of our justice system.

“’The system is ‘slowly coming apart at the seams,’ the High Court said in the Law Society’s successful Judicial Review of the government’s response to the Criminal Legal Aid Independent Review.***

“Yet the government continues to refuse to commit additional funding, leaving the criminal justice system at the point of collapse.”

On civil legal aid, Nick Emmerson concluded: “The Civil Legal Aid Review has also been subject to delay after delay. Civil legal aid providers are questioning their ability to stay in the profession with 40% of providers telling the government**** that they will actively leave the sector.

“The system is in a precarious state and ultimately the ones who will suffer are those trying to seek justice.

“This means that poverty-hit families are being denied vital help to fight eviction, tackle severe housing disrepair and address other life-changing legal issues.

“We need decisive action and we need it now, so the people the government represents can get free legal help when they need it.”

Notes to editors

* Means testing determines someone’s eligibility for legal aid. Find out about civil legal aid and criminal legal aid means testing.

** Research undertaken in 2018. Find more about the legal aid means test review.

*** Read the High Court’s judgment in full

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

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Naomi Jeffreys | 020 8049 3928

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS