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Chalk urged to provide £11.3m legal aid relief

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(29 August 2023)

Lord chancellor Alex Chalk has been urged to urgently give civil legal aid providers a temporary 15% fee increase to keep the sector floating until a major government-commissioned sustainability review reports back.

The Law Society said the £11.3m for providers – which equates to a 15% fee increase – would help stop legal aid from ‘completely vanishing’ at a time when millions of people are struggling with debt, housing costs and a cost-of-living crisis.

According to the Society’s advice desert maps, 42% of people do not have access to a local legal aid provider for housing, 84% do not have access to a local welfare legal aid provider and 90% do not have access to a local education legal aid provider. Civil legal aid fees have not increased since 1996.

The government has commissioned a review on the entire civil legal aid system – however, final policy decisions on how to save civil legal aid will not emerge until late 2024 at the earliest.

Society president Lubna Shuja said: ‘Law Society analysis suggests that the number of civil legal aid providers could drop by a third by 2025, leaving many without access to a lawyer when they desperately need one.

‘High inflation and the cost-of-living crisis is making it harder to get by day-to-day in the UK. If you add to that a family facing eviction, bankruptcy or fighting for welfare benefits to stay afloat, early advice is needed now more than ever.’

Chalk, a former vice-chair of the cross-party parliamentary group on legal aid and legal aid minister, has a proud record of supporting early legal advice as a cost-effective way to increase access to justice, Shuja said.

‘As justice secretary, now is the moment for him to throw that support behind making sure it is available to everyone who needs it.’

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: ‘In the last year alone, we invested £813m to make sure civil legal aid gets to those who need it most and we’re expanding the scope so that millions more vulnerable people can access vital support. At the same time, we are reviewing the civil legal aid sector to ensure the system is sustainable well into the future.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)