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					The impact of proposed legal aid
changes on the charity sector

Govenrment’s proposed changes to legal aid will see not-for-profit organisations lose on
average 92% of their legal aid funding.i This, combined with the expected dramatic cuts to
local authority funding for advice, could leave hundreds of charities struggling to survive and
tens of thousands of vulnerable people with no access to legal support.

Not for profit organisations will be hit hardest by the proposed changes to legal aid:
charities (a 92% cut) are facing much larger reductions in their legal aid income than solicitors
(40%) or barristers (22%).ii This is largely for three reasons:

   1) A telephone advice line would disproportionately replace advice provided by
   charities: the proposal to make a telephone advice line the single gateway to civil legal
   advice, and provide much of the subsequent advice over the phone, will mean an 85%
   reduction in charities’ legal aid incomeiii,iv Although charities could compete for contracts to
   provide telephone advice, those currently operating are significantly bigger than those held
   for face-to-face advice by most not-for-profit organisations, suggesting many charities will be
   unable to tender, or unsuccessful.

   2) Social welfare law advice, (67% of which is provided by charitiesv) is facing
   dramatic cuts. Out of its total (08/09) budget of £69mvi, £49m will be cutvii (equivalent to a
   71% reduction). Most of the remaining money will be for legal representation rather than
   crucial earlier legal help.

   3) Charities, unlike solicitors, provide almost no criminal legal aid, which is left virtually
   untouched by these changes.

Legal aid supports hundreds of charities: About £78m was paid to about 330 charities in
legal aid funding in 2009/10.viii Fourteen percent of Citizen Advice Bureaus’ funding comes from
legal aid, and there are 300 CAB advisers paid for by legal aid funding for social welfare law.ix
There are 56 law centres in the UK, which receive over half their funding from legal aid.x

The civil legal aid budget has already been squeezed – it has reduced by 24% in real terms
between 1997 and 2004xi and by 15% in the last 10 years.xii

Recommendations:
Retain legal aid for benefits and debt advice. This will ensure vulnerable people have access
to the support they need, saves money down the linexiii and will disproportionately benefit
charities providing legal aid.

Ensure adequate face-to-face advice is available. A telephone advice service will not meet
the needs of vulnerable clients in deprived areas – more resources must be retained to ensure
telephone advice is easily available to those who need it, including within easy travelling
distance.

Remove the need for advice, not the provision. Removing the need – through a better-
designed benefit system, better financial education, capping high-cost loans, and much else –
must dictate a cut in provision. Not doing so will cost more down the line.

Consider the ‘polluter pays’ principle. It is estimated that 40% of the demand on advice
services is generated by failures in public systemsxiv. Charging the department whose mistake
caused an individual to seek advice, as advocated by the Law Society for cases in courtxv,
incentivises departments to make fewer mistakes and provides a valuable revenue stream to
continue funding advice work. It should be investigated.
About Community Links
We are an innovative east London charity, running a wide range of community projects for
30,000 people every year, including a benefits, debt and housing advice service that supports
9,000 people annually. Based in Newham, we have over 30 years experience working with local
people.

Half our staff live locally and 40% are former service users or volunteers. Our work is about far
more than numbers, but here are some.

Last year we:

            Saw crime and antisocial behaviour drop over 50% in the estate around our newly
             opened Rokeby Community Hub
            Ran youth clubs and children’s activities for almost 4000 young people
            Advised almost 9,000 people with benefits, housing and debt problems
            Ran the most successful New Deal project in London and the South East, helping
             over 5,000 people look for work
            Worked with 144 young people excluded from mainstream education, in our own
             Community Links school, notching up a 93% A*-G pass rate at GCSE.
            Ran four social enterprises, providing income for our work while supporting the
             community


    Making an impact

    Mr Ashall works as a porter at a private members club in London, earning under £12,000 a year. His wife
    used to work as a nurse but severe arthritis forced her to give up, and they started struggling to keep up
    with the mortgage and debt payments.

    Mrs Ashall claimed Incapacity Benefit for six months but was then deemed fit to work and it was
    withdrawn. They approached Community Links when they were threatened with court action by their
    creditors.

    Our advisors helped them negotiate a new debt payment plan which they could afford, and helped Mrs
    Ashall to successfully appeal the Incapacity Benefit decision, and also apply for Disability Living
    Allowance. Mr Ashall was entitled to Working Tax Credit but not claiming it, so we helped him apply for
    that too. This debt and benefit advice ultimately saved the couple’s home.

    This debt and benefit advice ultimately saved the couple their home, and increased their income. Mr and
 Mrs Ashall still regularly pop in for a chat.
For more information contact Will Horwitz, will.horwitz@community-links.org or 0207 473 9669

www.community-links.org
i
   Ministry of Justice 2010, Legal aid reform: cumulative impact, Equalities Impact Assessment – the figure refers to the Legal Help
funding
ii
    Ministry of Justice 2010, Legal aid reform: cumulative impact, Equalities Impact Assessment
iii
    Ministry of Justice, 2010, Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales: Provision of telephone advice, Equalities
Impact Assessment
iv
     This is because charities predominantly provide legal help rather then representation, and it is this legal help which will now be
available via telephone. Also, charities carry out proportionally more debt and housing advice, which the government assumes will
less frequently be referred for face-to-face advice.
v
    LSC annual report 2009/10
vi
     LSC statistical information 2008/09 (total of debt, employment, housing and benefits controlled work)
vii
     Ministry of Justice Impact Assessment, Legal aid reforms: scope changes, 2010 (total proposed reductions in debt, employment,
housing and benefits)
viii
      LSC annual report 2009/10 – there were 332 contracts for civil legal aid
ix
    Citizens Advice, 2010, MP briefing for the Adjournment Debate on legal aid, 14th December 2010
x
    Law centre federation website http://www.lawcentres.org.uk/lawcentres/detail/history-and-funding-of-law-centres/
xi
    A Fairer Deal for Legal Aid, Dept of Constitutional Affairs, 2006
xii
     Using data from Ministry of Justice 2010, Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales
xiii
      Citizen’s Advice Bureau (2010), Towards a Business Case for Legal Aid
xiv
      Radically rethinking advice services in Nottingham, Nottingham City Council, Advice UK.
xv
     Access to Justice p20, Law Society
p20, Law Society

				
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