Legal aid funding cut by almost half in six years as advice network "decimated"
Funding for legal aid providers in the region has been cut by almost half in six years amid warnings the support network for vulnerable people has been "decimated".
Data from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) shows almost £7m a year less is being paid out to solicitors or not for profit firms since 2011-12, and spending in North Norfolk and Broadland has dried up entirely.
Since the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, advice or support for family, housing and welfare law has been removed from scope of legal aid.
It has prompted a five-fold rise in people representing themselves in court for complex appeals or family disputes, according to the Personal Support Unit, which helps people through the court system.
Legal aid receipts paid out to providers based in Norfolk, Waveney and Suffolk Coastal has fallen by 47pc in six years as more than 10,000 fewer claims each year are granted, analysis from the BBC Shared Data Unit reveals.
Richard Miller, head of justice at the Law Society, said the loss of legal aid develops into a “vicious spiral” as more firms pull out of the work.
“The drastic cut in the volumes means that for a growing number of firms, the inherent fixed costs of maintaining a legal aid contract are no longer worth it for the smaller number of cases covered by the scheme,” he said.
“Firms therefore pull out of this work, meaning that even for those cases where legal aid is still supposed to be available, it can be very difficult for a client to find a lawyer willing to take on the case.”
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy at the Law Centres Network, said one in five legal aid providers have given up contracts since LASPO.
He said public spending cuts have “decimated” the legal aid advice sector.
“The precious little assistance that remains is no longer available by right or evenly across the country, but as a postcode lottery, entirely based on charitable resources where those are available,” he said.
Richard Burgon, shadow secretary of state for justice, said legal aid cuts have “deliberately weakened people’s ability to challenge injustices and enforce their rights”.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Every person should have access to legal advice when they need it – that’s why the Legal Aid Agency keeps availability under constant review and takes urgent action whenever it has concerns.”