‘Advice deserts’ predicted as result of legal aid changes
The Centre for Human Rights in Practice at the University of Warwick has now published its report into the effects of the civil legal aid cuts to practitioners and clients.
The State of the Sector: The impact of cuts to civil legal aid on practitioners and their clients, written by Natalie Byrom, can be downloaded here.
The report is based on the responses to a survey of 674 individuals currently working in legal aid funded civil law. Whilst the majority of respondents identified as working in the not-for-profit sector, a significant number currently work in private practice.
Almost one third of respondents (194 individuals) reported that they were at risk of redundancy as a result of the funding cuts. Large numbers of respondents also reported greater job insecurity (235 individuals/ 34.9%), reduced paid hours (89 individuals/13.2%), and reductions in the legal services provided (115 individuals/17.1%) as a result of the cuts. It appears to be the most experienced and qualified advisors whose jobs are most at risk.
The impact of reductions in service will not be felt across the country equally. Particular problems were identified in the following regions:
- 50% of respondents who stated that their service was ‘very likely to close completely in 2013’ were from the North of England.
- A disproportionate number of respondents from the South West stated that their agency would cease to provide specialist casework entirely as a result of the cuts.
- Within the sample surveyed, the Midlands is over-represented in terms of numbers of
services under threat of closure. The number of respondents citing as a likely impact of the cuts the closure of their service within the next two years (22.1%) is greater than would be predicted on the basis of the number of respondents from this area (16.7%).
A number of respondents therefore raised concerns about the creation of ‘advice deserts’ in areas of the UK where services are already scarce and they are now disproportionately affected by cuts.
Respondents also highlighted particularly severe impacts on specific groups of clients including those in rural areas, children, those with disabilities and those who are otherwise vulnerable or disadvantaged.
The results of the survey highlight the efforts made by those who currently work in the sector to shield their clients from the impact of the cuts; cutting costs on overheads, applying to the Advice Transition Fund (if working for a not-for-profit agency) and running other grant funded projects in order to finance their existing operations rather than change the way that they deliver
However, a significant number of respondents reported that their agency will be charging for advice in some form to fill the funding gap left by legal aid cuts, marking a significant departure for both the sector and the clients it has traditionally served.
The report can be read here.
SOURCE: Family Law Week