Legal aid commission calls on government to restore legal aid for housing

LV Conference Lord Low feature

The Low Commission has called on the government to stump up another £50m a year to help ensure a ‘basic level of provision’ for social welfare law advice. It proposes that another £50m is raised to match the government contribution from a wide range of sources include a levy on payday loan companies, contributions from trusts and foundations as well as from individual law firms.

 

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.”
Lord Low

 

Following a 12-month inquiry, the commission, established by the LegalAction Group and led by cross-bencher Lord Low, has made 100 recommendations, including restoring legal aid for emergency housing cases.

You can download the full report HERE.

The Low Commission makes six overarching recommendations:

  • Public legal education should be given higher priority both in the school (alongside financial literacy) and in “education for life” so that people know their rights;
  • Central and local government should do more to reduce preventable demand (for example, by requiring the DWP to pay costs on upheld appeals).
  • Courts and tribunals should review how they can operate more efficiently and effectively (for example, through adapting their model of dispute resolution at every stage to meet the needs of litigants with little or no support).
  • The next UK government should develop a National Strategy for Advice and Legal Support for 2015–20, preferably with all-party support, and the Welsh Government should develop a similar strategy for Wales. There should be a Minister for Advice and Legal Support, within the MoJ, with a cross-departmental brief for leading the development of this strategy.
  • Local authorities should commission local advice and legal support plans with local not-for-profit and commercial advice agencies.
  • The next UK government should establish a ten-year National Advice and Legal Support Fund of £50m pa, to be administered by the Big Lottery Fund, to help develop provision of information, advice and legal support on social welfare law in line with local plans

“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.”
Amanda Finlay, commission vice-chair and former legal services strategy director at the Ministry of Justice

The Low Commission estimates that £100 million per annum is required in order “to ensure a basic level of provision of information, advice and legal support on social welfare law”. According to the report, by 2015 there will be about £400 million pa for social welfare law–“mainly coming from local authorities, the Money Advice Service (MAS), the big lottery fund” and what of remains legal aid.

The body is calling on the next government to provide half the extra funding (i.e. £50 million) by establishing a 10 year National Advice and Legal Support Fund to be administered by the Big Lottery fund. “We propose that this national firm should be financed by the Ministry of Justice, the Cabinet office and the DWP (as the main creator of the need for advice and legal support).”

The Low Commission reckons 90% should be used to fund local support and 10% for national initiatives and the Big Lottery Fund should allocate that 90% based upon “indicators of need which draw on joint strategic needs assessments and health and well-being strategies”.

The other £50 million would come from a variety of funders identified by the Commission. “They should include NHS clinical commissioning groups, housing associations and additional MAS funding (for example, by increasing the Financial Conduct Authority’s levy on financial institutions, and introducing a levy on payday loan companies).” Further contributions could also come from trusts and foundations, the Big Lottery Fund and “lawyer-fund generation schemes” such as Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) and dormant funds held by solicitors – those last two ideas have been floated, but rejected, by lawyers repeatedly over the last 10 to 15 years.

 

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About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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