Drought for legal aid providers will erode eligibility gains

The UK government must shore up the beleaguered legal aid market if more generous eligibility criteria are to benefit those on low incomes, barristers’ leaders have warned.

The Law Society of England and Wales has today published updated maps of Legal Aid Deserts (1) to accompany its response to the Department of Justice’s consultation on changes to the Law’s means test legal aid (2).

“Legal aid is a lifeline for people, who typically live in poverty, to help them in times of crisis, such as when facing eviction or seeking protection from a partner. violent to themselves and their children,” Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce said. .

“The legal aid means test has not been updated with inflation for 13 years, during which time prices have increased by 40%.

“The expanded eligibility now expected to flow from government proposals is welcome news, if long overdue.

“However, the government wants to raise the means test to 2019 prices, which is already outdated, and then freeze it at that level until 2026.

“By then, the cost of living crisis is expected to have driven prices up a jaw-dropping 20%, leaving many people unable to afford legal advice, but judged by 2019 standards to be too wealthy to afford. get legal aid.

“People will also only see the benefits of eligibility changes if there is a significant investment in the legal aid sector.

“Fewer and fewer businesses can afford to provide civil legal aid advice because the rates of pay for this work have not been increased for 25 years.

“Our updated maps of the legal aid deserts show a sector in crisis. Month after month, law firms offering legal aid are closing their doors, leaving large areas of the country without access to in-person legal aid services.

“If the government is serious about ensuring that people facing poverty are not left on their own when faced with life-changing legal issues, it must take a 360-degree approach:

  • “Improve the means test every year to keep pace with the spiraling cost of living
  • “Setting thresholds so that no one’s income and capital falls below a minimum standard of living if they have to pay their own legal costs
  • “Investing in criminal and civil legal aid providers so that anyone who is eligible for legal aid can find an expert to help them when they need it”

Notes to Editors

  1. Read our response to government proposals on means testing
  2. See our new legal aid desert maps

About the Law Society

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