The findings of a survey of providers commissioned for the government’s review of the fragile civil legal aid sector reveal nothing new – but still make for grim reading.
The Ministry of Justice wanted to understand the key ‘pain points’, how these could affect future service provision, why providers are doing legal aid and their ability to meet demand. PA Consulting carried out the research and its findings are based on responses from 18% of the 1,246 civil legal aid providers on the Legal Aid Agency’s (LAA) database.
Two-thirds of private practices and 37% of non-profits stopped doing legal aid work in the past because it was no longer financially viable.
Over half of private practices do not make a profit from civil legal aid work: 33% said the service was loss-making, 22% broke even. Four in 10 non-profits are heavily reliant on trusts or charitable donations as a source of revenue.
Four in 10 respondents will quit the sector or reduce their legal aid work in the next 12 months. Worse, four in 10 will ‘actively’ quit the sector in the next five years.
Demand for services significantly outstrips supply. One south of England non-profit has to ‘cherry-pick’ cases.
If providers are struggling to keep their heads above water, why keep providing legal aid services? For altruistic reasons, in some cases.
One north of England respondent said: ‘Our client group do not have much access to legal information and assistance is extremely limited, and their problems are multi-faceted and complex. It is important for us to be able to provide them with legal representation they would otherwise not get.’
The biggest pain points? Low fees, spending excess unbillable time, fee structure rigidity, time needed to manage the client and cumbersome administration.
‘Assessing financial eligibility for legal help/legal aid can
FEWER than a dozen legal aid providers were operating in Dudley as of February, new figures show.
The figures come as a professional body color in large areas of England and Wales have no access to some forms of legal aid.
Legal aid is given to those who cannot afford it to cover the costs of legal advice, mediation and representation – with funding ultimately coming from the Government.
Data from the Legal Aid Agency shows there were 11 legal aid providers in Dudley as of February.
The Law Society – a professional association for solicitors – has warned key areas of law such as education, welfare, community care, immigration and housing are suffering from a lack of free legal advice and representation.
It is estimated that 53 million people – or 90 per cent of the population – do not have access to a local legal aid provider for education, and 84 per cent of the population do not have access to one for welfare and benefits issues.
Dudley was among areas without a legal aid provider for law education, and had no providers offering welfare and benefit services.
Across England and Wales there were 21 local areas with no legal aid providers whatsoever.
Assistance with crime and family law are the most common types of legal aid, with 1,684 and 1,434 practices offering them respectively.
There were five for crime and five for family law in Dudley.
The Law Society said a 2012 law which cut the availability of legal aid had a disastrous impact on the ability of victims to seek justice, with funding for free support drying up in many areas.
The number of legal aid cases dropped from more than 900,000 in 2009-10