Monday, 11 July 2011

Government reveals full extent of legal aid cuts

In a game of statistical catch-up, the government has now revealed a more accurate picture of the impact of the legal aid cuts. The figures, which were published with the Ministry of Justice response to the legal aid cuts consultation, show that its original figures (published in November 2010) understated the impact of the cuts by as much as 20 per cent.

A total of 595,000 people will lose out on civil legal aid, as opposed to the 502,000 which were originally estimated by the government. These figures are close to the ones which LAG calculated in March this year using the up-to-date data for cases completed in 2009/10. The government has used this data in its latest figures. There are some differences between LAG’s and the government's figures, but these can be explained by the small concessions which the government has made from its original plans, including bringing some education and family cases back into scope.

However, it seems the government has persisted in basing its estimates on closed cases as opposed to those opened in the year. LAG revealed in March that this understates the figures by around 50,000. LAG argues that to present an accurate picture of who will lose out on legal aid services the cases opened in the year should be the baseline. Removing areas of law from the scope of the legal aid scheme stops new cases being opened, while existing cases will continue for months or years until they are closed.

Initial advice on cases, known as legal help, is the big loser in terms of both new cases and cash. A total of £130m will be lost in funding for this type of advice, £16m greater than originally estimated. Advice on common types of problems (known as social welfare law) loses an additional £10.5m in funding:

  • Welfare benefits - initial estimate: £22m; updated estimate: £25m

  • Debt - initial estimate: £16m; updated estimate: £20m

  • Housing - initial estimate: £7m; updated estimate: £10m

  • Employment - initial estimate: £4m; updated estimate: £5m

  • Education - initial estimate: £1m; updated estimate: £0.5m

  • Total - initial estimate: £50m; updated estimate: £60.5m

Citizens Advice Bureaux, Law Centres and other not for profit (NFP) legal advice centres will lose the bulk of the above funding. At least £40m will be cut in funding to the sector as the vast majority of cases in benefits and debt are undertaken by NFP agencies which contract with the Legal Services Commission. The sector is already being hit by cuts in local government and other central government support for advice services.

If these planned legal aid cuts go ahead nearly 100,000 more people than the government originally estimated will lose out on advice and providers will lose 20 per cent more income. LAG is urging MPs to substantially amend the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill currently in the committee stage in the House of Commons to prevent these cuts which will have such an impact on members of the public.

Read LAG's document: The real impact of the legal aid advice cuts

Image: LAG

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