Last updated:2023-09-18
Low Commission Report Published
The independent commission established by LAG and led by the cross-bench peer Lord Low has published its report today, 9th January. The Commission is calling for urgent reforms to ensure ordinary people can get the help they need to deal with employment, debt, housing and other social welfare law problems.
The Low Commission has been the biggest inquiry of its kind into the impact of the cuts in funding for social welfare law advice. It is calling for a national strategy for advice and legal support, to replace the current piecemeal approach, which is failing to protect the poorest and most vulnerable. The Commission also asks for a £100m implementation fund to be established by the government. It proposes that half of the cash for the fund should come from central government, and half to be raised from other sources, including a levy on payday loan companies.
Other recommendations include:
- Creation of a new, cross-departmental ministerial post, to oversee implementation of the advice and legal support strategy;
- Restoring legal aid for housing cases so people can get help before they face imminent eviction;
- Urgent reform of the ‘safety net provisions’, introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act, which are proving unwieldy and unworkable.
Lord Low said:
“Our report makes sobering reading and we are calling on political parties of all stripes to recognise the need to act before we reach crisis point. All around the country we found advice agencies buckling under the strain, and ordinary people left with nowhere to turn.”
Amanda Finlay, commission vice-chair and former legal services strategy director at the Ministry of Justice, said:
“In these days of austerity, we realise hard choices have to be made. But just cutting legal aid is not the answer. The problems still remain. We should follow the example of other countries which have reduced legal aid but recognised that help is still required, and invest in better information, advice and support.”
During its year-long inquiry, the Low Commission heard evidence from around the country:
- Tameside, near Manchester – 5-week wait for appointments at local Citizens Advice Bureau; only 10% of those needing specialist help are able to be referred on (down from 50%);
- Gloucester: housing charity Shelter has closed its office, while Gloucester Law Centre is still going, and demand for immigration and debt advice has doubled, compared with last year;
- Birmingham: local CAB lost more than half its local authority grant (down from £590,000 to £265,000), plus £700,000 in legal aid funding;
- Sutton: CAB has seen trebling of demand for welfare benefit appeal advice in last three years;
- Swansea & Neath Port Talbot: CAB has had to axe 12 out of 36 staff posts because of 30% cuts in budget.
The report will be formally launched at a reception at the House of Commons next Monday (13th January). 
Link to the full report-