Local authorities ‘will bear the brunt’ of legal aid changes

22 May 18

Local authorities will bear the brunt of changes to legal aid planned by the Ministry of Justice, a network of law professionals has warned.

The Law Centres Network spoke to PF as its case against the MoJ’s proposal to reduce the number of schemes giving free advice to people threatened with homelessness was heard in the High Court. 

The hearing took place yesterday and today, and challenged the plan to consolidate 113 Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes in England and Wales into 47. 

Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy and profile at LCN, told PF: “If people find it harder to access legal aid or follow-on services, local authorities will inevitably bear the brunt of this.

“Be it people made homeless following an eviction or providing additional support to their children, while also losing council tax revenue, this change by the MoJ which is not even intended to produce savings would end up shifting policy costs onto local government.”

The schemes give people faced with becoming homeless free legal advice on the day of their hearing, regardless of financial circumstances. Last year, the scheme helped 40,000 people.

The MoJ consulted on the sustainability of HPCDSs in August 2017 and found that just seven respondents out of a total of 59 agreed with the proposal to consolidate them. 

Julie Bishop, director of the LCN, said: “Law centres have provided the duty court scheme for 17 years.

“Yet for unknown reasons, the MoJ has decided that it is completely ‘rational’ to ‘fix’ something that is not broken, while ignoring the view of expert practitioners.”

Bishop added: “We are dedicated to giving legal assistance to people in need, and are sick and tired of watching vital services be degraded.”

As part of the overhaul, the MoJ wants to introduce changes that create price competition amongst organisations bidding for scheme contracts.

Previously, the MoJ would set fixed fees for the services and organisations would bid for contracts based on these rates.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “Last year we spent over £1.6bn on legal aid, to ensure help is available for those who need it most.

“The government is committed to ensuring that these services are sustainable for those who provide them whilst delivering value for money to the taxpayer.”

They added: “Legal proceedings are currently underway and it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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