Last updated:2023-09-18
MPs’ group hears of toll taken on advice agencies by legal aid cutbacks
Description: oct2015-p04-04
All-Party Group on Legal Aid (right to left): John Edwards, Age UK; Baljit Badesha, AdviceUK; Keir Starmer QC MP (chair); Laura Bunt, Citizens Advice; Lord Low, Low Commission; Julie Bishop, Law Centres Network
Advice agencies have warned members of the All-Party Group on Legal Aid of the devastating impact that legal aid and other cuts are having on their services.
Julie Bishop, Law Centres Network director, told the meeting that 10 centres – nearly 20 per cent of the network – had closed as a result of the LASPO cuts. She estimates that law centres will see a 70 per cent drop in income between 2010 and 2015. According to Baljit Badesha from AdviceUK, its own network of around 500 centres has lost about £100m as a result of legal aid and other cuts. He believes this has led to over 750,000 fewer people being helped.
Laura Bunt from Citizens Advice said her organisation’s network of 320 main bureaux, with 3,000 ‘community outlets’, is experiencing twin ‘pressures on funding and demand’. She said bureaux were reporting a ‘shift in the nature of debt problems’, with big increases in difficulties related to council tax and utilities. CAB advisers had noted a change in employment law problems, with big increases in enquiries related to self-employment and a lack of clarity in employees’ terms and conditions.
Age UK’s head of advice, John Edwards warned that many local councils were failing to carry out their duty under the Care Act 2014 to fund independent advice services.
He added that Age UK is seeking to improve the quality of its web-based information.
Citizens Advice is also responding to the increase in demand in part by remodelling its online advice service to include more ‘tactical’ information on dealing with problems. Blunt stressed that it wanted to ‘preserve face-to-face advice for the most complex cases’ and use its online service to free up resources in local bureaux.
Lord Low, who chairs the Low Commission, told attendees that he would be meeting the justice secretary, Michael Gove MP, along with other ministers in the coming weeks and that he would be emphasising to them the need to ‘integrate advice with other funding streams’ such as the troubled families programme.
Low also believes the government needs to accept that ‘people’s problems are often social rather than medical’ and that the linking of GP surgeries with social welfare law advice services would save costs to the NHS.
The meeting was hosted by Keir Starmer QC MP, who chairs the group. Starmer took questions from the many parliamentarians and others who attended, including Yvonne Fovargue MP, who, while welcoming online innovation in advice services, said these would not reach many of the most disadvantaged.
Lord Carlile QC, the Liberal Democrat peer, said part of the solution was for lawyers to offer more pro bono advice, but he was told by a legal aid lawyer in the audience that while in London such services are widespread, they do not ‘scratch the surface’ of what is needed.