The vast majority of Londoners (88%) believe that legal advice should be free for everyone earning on or below the national median income of £25,000, according to a new report from Legal Action Group (LAG) and Trust for London. However, 77,000 Londoners will lose access to legal advice if the government’s proposed cuts go ahead.
The report publishes the results from an opinion poll survey of 1,603 Londoners, carried out by independent polling company GfK NOP for LAG and Trust for London, to find out Londoner’s attitudes towards and experiences of legal advice services.
In addition to overwhelming support for the availability of free services the opinion poll found:
- Although the poorest Londoners are most likely to use advice services, all social classes make use of them to help deal with issues such as welfare benefits, tax credits, employment, housing, immigration and debt. 24% of Londoners had sought advice in the last year and 78% of this number received it.
- 81% of people who used advice services were satisfied with the service they received.
- 65% of people said their situation improved due to the advice they had received.
- Only 17% of those seeking advice had used a telephone helpline. This raises serious questions about the government’s proposal to introduce a telephone gateway as the sole route for accessing legal aid services.
- Young people (aged between 16-24) were the most likely to say that they found it easy to access advice services. 62% found it fairly easy which was 18 percentage points higher than the next age group. Amongst young people, the same percentage (54%) used the internet as well as advice centres to access support.
The report also analyses the current state of the not for profit advice sector in the capital and the impact of public sector funding cuts to legal advice. It shows that 77,000 Londoners will lose out on help with civil legal problems and that £9.33 million will be cut from advice services, if the reductions in legal aid proposed by the government go ahead. However, the report shows that this is a false economy as the lack of advice will cost the government £55 million in other expenditure. For example, if a housing case is not resolved there might be the costs of temporary accommodation.
Speaking at the parliamentary launch of London Advice Watch at a special meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, Lord Phillips, a Liberal Democrat peer, welcomed the report as reminding us of the crucial important of access to justice through free legal advice. He stated the cuts to legal aid are “ill-advised” and he believed the Lords would reject key elements of the plans if the Government does not give way. The bill aims to save £350 million a year by removing legal aid from significant areas of law.
Agreeing with much of Phillips’ remarks, Labour’s former legal aid minister Lord Bach urged concerned parties to keep up pressure on the Commons to accept any amendments made by the House of Lords. ‘The issue is not party political; it’s too serious for that – it’s about the future of civil law and the future of social welfare law,’ he said.
Andy Slaughter MP, shadow Justice Minister, spoke about the impact of cuts in his Hammersmith & Fulham constituency where three advice centres have recently closed, despite a huge need for advice in the borough.
The Guardian (10 January 2012) – Launch of report
The Guardian (3 February 2012) – Impact of cuts on smaller advice groups
Law Gazette– Launch of report
Law Gazette – APPG report