99% drop in Legal Aid for social welfare cases
A new report by Amnesty International has shown the hidden impact of the withdrawal of legal aid funding for all but a small list of civil court cases. Amnesty interviewed 30 people who lost eligibility because of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) as well as lawyers, law centres and organisations offering advice.
The report found that LASPO led to a 46% drop in the number of cases in which legal aid was granted, from 925,000 in 2012–13 to 497,000 cases the following year. However, in some areas, the fall was much more substantial with social welfare law down 99%, housing down 50% and private family cases down by 60%.
There was also evidence that many large areas across the country are becoming “advice deserts” because free legal advice is disappearing altogether with official figures estimating there are 2,500 fewer immigration legal aid cases each year where children are claimants.
One interviewee said: “I don’t know the law; I don’t know what to say to make sure I’m heard. I just don’t know how to do it on my own.”
Comment from Amnesty International
A spokesperson from Amnesty International commented: “Cuts to legal aid (have) left thousands of the most vulnerable without essential legal advice and support. We are in danger of creating a two-tier civil justice system: open to those who can afford it but increasingly closed to the poorest and most in need of its protection.
“From parents fighting for access to their children, to those trying to stay in the country they have grown up in, to people with mental health problems at risk of homelessness, these cuts have hit the most vulnerable the most.”
What is Legal Aid?
Legal Aid is financial support available for legal advice, mediation, and representation, when a person cannot afford to pay for legal costs. In 2012, legal aid was removed in most cases involving welfare benefits law, debt, housing, employment, immigration and family law (other than some involving domestic violence or child abuse).
If you are worried about any issues relating to your particular situation and would like further advice, you can use our Find an Adviser tool to locate face-to-face advice services in your local area or that work nationally.
Our free Benefits Calculator can help you check your welfare benefit entitlements and tax credits. Even if you have checked before, it is worth doing so again, especially if there has been a change in your circumstances.