Residence test could costs councils £26m

HomelessThe proposals for a residence test for civil legal aid could cost councils £26m a year as well as ‘damage community cohesion and fragment communities’, according to an alliance of local authorities and charities. The No Recourse to Public Funds Network – together with Islington Law Centre, JustRights, Refugee Action, Rights of Women and Youth Access – have published a their own impact assessment looking again at the Ministry of Justice’s controversial residence test under which it was proposed that those who lack a ‘strong connection’ to the UK should be denied legal aid.

The NRPF is a network of local authorities and partner organisations focusing on the statutory response to migrants with care. ‘We are concerned that the proposal would have a devastating impact on equality and fundamental rights and is very unlikely to be lawful, because it cannot be justified,’ the group says. ‘We are also extremely concerned that the proposed residence test seems likely to cause a cost shift of around £26m a year to local authorities, whilst the Ministry of Justice has not been able to estimate any financial savings.’

‘We believe that the proposed residence test would fundamentally undermine the operation of the rule of law in the UK. It would significantly impact on access to justice in that it would prevent many people from pursuing vital equality/discrimination claims, cases that protect fundamental human rights. The residence test would deny legal aid to people who have received (or are receiving) unlawful treatment at the hands of public bodies; they will have no right to seek judicial review and in certain circumstances the stake will be as high as life or death.’
Shadow Financial Impact Assessment (HERE)

The groups argued that there was ‘no evidence at all to show that the residence test would save public money’. Instead, it was ‘likely to be extremely expensive’. ‘On a cost/benefit analysis a residence test simply cannot be justified,’ the paper said. ‘The residence test may cost just under £1m to the Legal Aid Agency per year, but there is also likely to be a cost shift to the Home Office, who will be the final port of call for checking immigration status. In addition to this there is likely to be an expense of around £26m a year to local authorities if the residence test comes into force due to increases in homelessness among people with no recourse to public funds and barriers to legal aid for migrant children supported by the local authority who need to pursue a legal issue.’

 

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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