Changes to Legal Aid
The government has introduced sweeping changes to cut legal aid spending by £350 million – or from £39 to £32.50 per head of population in the UK. Over half of the legal aid budget is spent on legal aid for criminal law. The new cuts apply to legal aid for civil law.
Legal aid will no longer be available for most issues in areas of civil law including:
- Private children and family issues (unless there is evidence of domestic violence or abuse, forced marriage or child abduction)
- Personal injury
- Clinical negligence
- Education law
- Welfare law
- Immigration (unless the person is detained)
- Debt and housing issues (unless someone is at imminent risk of losing their home)
In addition, funding may be refused for any case that is suitable for alternative funding (a conditional fee agreement), except in Family or Mental Health Tribunal cases. Legal aid remains available for:
- Criminal matters
- Mental health cases
- Asylum cases
- Family law cases involving domestic violence or abuse, forced marriage or child abduction
- Debt and housing matters where someone’s home is at immediate risk
There is also discretionary funding for “exceptional cases” where failure to provide legal aid would be, or would result in, a breach of rights under the European Convention of Human Rights.
Eligibility for legal aid
The eligibility for legal aid has been changed so that all applicants are subject to means testing. There is no longer an automatic right to legal aid if you receive certain welfare benefits and monthly contributions from those eligible for legal aid can now be up to 30% of their monthly disposable income.
Telephone Gateway Service
In order to apply for legal aid for Debt, Education (Special Education Needs) or Discrimination advice
most people will have to phone a telephone advice service before they can get legal aid. The Civil Legal Advice (CLA) service will continue to provide advice in Housing, Family and Welfare Benefits but it will not be mandatory to call them before applying for legal aid.
For those of you who look after staff or members, you may be aware that the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and many local law centres have had significant funding cuts and that several branches of the CAB and some local law centres are closing as a result.
Even before these changes, we were receiving more calls than ever before and our call volumes continue to rise. Our service is highly valued by members and employees, and with the recent funding cuts is even more important to them. Whether you call us as part of a membership scheme or through an employee benefits package, legally speaking, we are here to help.