Categorized | Law Updates, Legal Aid

Advice deserts

Advice deserts

Last Monday civil legal aid became no longer available for cases involving divorce, child custody, clinical negligence, welfare, employment, immigration, housing, debt, benefit and education. Someone with an odd sense of humour decided that April 1st was an appropriate date.

This Monday a report on the results of a survey examining the cuts to civil legal aid introduced by LASPO – carried out jointly by Warwick University’s Centre for Human Rights in Practice and social justice forum ilegal – was published. The report presents the findings of a survey conducted between 29 January 2013 and 3 March 2013 in which 674 individuals took part. The majority of respondents currently work in the not-for-profit sector, although a significant proportion work in private practice. The majority of respondents, of whom two thirds are female, gave their location as either London and the South East or the North of England.

One in three respondents identify as being at risk of redundancy as a result of the cuts. In addition, large numbers of respondents also reported greater job insecurity, longer unpaid hours and reductions in the legal services provided by their organisation as a result of the cuts. Those who have worked in the sector for over ten years are worst affected by the risk of redundancy. Next worst affected are those who have worked in the sector for between 4-7 years.

Specialist Advisors are also among the worst affected by the risk of redundancy, and expertise in the areas of law that have traditionally been referred to as ‘social welfare law’ (debt and money, employment, housing and welfare benefits) is most threatened as a result of the cuts. All this at a time when the biggest shake-up in welfare benefits affects those most in need of advice and guidance. Among advice workers most likely to be made redundant, highly-qualified women are expected to be disproportionately at risk.

Half of respondents who said their service is “very likely to close completely in 2013” were from the north. 22% who said they could close in 2013-2015 were in the Midlands and 19% of those who said they would end specialist casework were from the south-west.

The report’s author, Natalie Byrom, said: “Legal advice services are most heavily concentrated in London and the south-east of England. But our survey found that it is the rest of the UK that will be disproportionately affected by reductions in legal advice services. This survey raises grave concerns about the creation of ‘advice deserts’ and vulnerable people unable to get the advice they desperately need.” The survey reported that some centres were beginning to charge for advice to fill the funding gap left by legal aid cuts.

Participants commented on the impact of the legal aid cuts on clients located in rural areas, who would have to travel further using expensive public transport to access legal advice. Many respondents were concerned about the impact of the changes on children and vulnerable clients. Also reported were concerns that the most vulnerable may be at risk of exploitation as a result of the cuts. Respondents highlighted inadequacies in the proposed new delivery methods for advice services, particularly the shift to an emphasis on “self help” and telephone advice lines.

In the foreword to the report, Patrick Torsney and Colin Henderson, leaders of ilegal, said: “Whatever your views on the coalition government’s austerity agenda, it is now abundantly clear that equality before the law is no longer a statutory principle of our society. The likely impact on social cohesion of both welfare reform and turning the justice clock back to the pre-Beveridge 1940s will be profound.”

The full text of the report ‘The State of the Sector: The impact of cuts to civil legal aid on practitioners and their clients’ can be found at:

http://downloads.ilegal.org.uk/2013/SOSReport.pdf

This post was written by:

- who has written 460 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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