Legal Aid Reform

Posted on June 14th, 2011 in Parliamentary News

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does she agree that one of the issues that should be addressed is poor decision making by public authorities, particularly in immigration, where the UK Border Agency fails to make good decisions based on good evidence? That is why people have to go to the tribunal, and that is why they need legal aid.

Yvonne Fovargue: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. I will come to that later when I suggest some ways of saving money in the system.

Whole swathes of advice areas are removed from the scope of legal aid, particularly the social welfare law category. Welfare benefit is removed completely from legal aid. According to the Ministry of Justice’s own equality impact assessment, 63% of clients who received legal aid in this category had a disability, 54% were female and 27% were from a black and minority ethnic background. However, this is justified by stating that the

    “accessible, inquisitorial and user friendly nature of the tribunal means appellants can generally present their case without any assistance”.

It also states:

    “Advice and help are available from a number of sources including Job Centre Plus and the Benefits Enquiry Line”.

So people who have had their claim refused by Jobcentre Plus or the Benefits Agency are to go to them for
support in challenging the decision and they will help them. I have to say that that is not the experience I had when I worked for an advice agency.

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): On the basis of what the hon. Lady has said, which I support entirely, would she be interested to know that Brighton Housing Trust’s Eastbourne advice centre deals with at least 800 specialist housing cases per year and anticipates that this will fall to about 100? Are we really expecting Jobcentre Plus to take up the slack?


To read more from this debate please click here