Access to Justice and Welfare Advisory Services

The UK Government has recognised that it is “imperative” that support is given to people on low incomes to access justice. However successive governments, parliamentary committees and stakeholders have identified barriers to vulnerable people accessing the necessary advice and legal services.

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The Government states that access to justice and the “ability of individuals to resolve their legal problems is vital to a just society and is a fundamental principle underpinning the rule of law”. Some of the issues affecting access to justice for people on low incomes include:

  • Legal aid means-testing criteria.
  • Criminal legal aid fee schemes.
  • Court closures.
  • Access to affordable advice.

In February 2019, the Government published its legal action support plan to deliver quicker and easier access to legal support services. It stated that the proposals were designed to ensure support was given to the most vulnerable in society to access justice. It included proposals to:

  • Review the eligibility criteria and provision of legal aid.
  • Review criminal legal aid fee schemes.
  • Work with legal support providers and academics to develop web-based products and use funding to encourage the delivery of legal support through technology.
  • Improve signposting advice and improve early support.
  • Pilot face-to-face early legal advice in a specific area of social welfare law.

In February 2020, the Government confirmed that it would continue to work on resolving the issues affecting access to justice.

As well as support through legal aid, people on low incomes can get free or low-cost advice from organisations such as Citizens Advice, Law Centres and Advocate. However, the Law Society has identified “legal aid deserts” in large regions of England and Wales, where there are few or no legal aid providers in certain areas of welfare advice.

This briefing was prepared for a Lords debate on 26 March 2020. This is no longer taking place. Lord Howarth of Newport (Labour) was to move that “this House takes note of the current state of access to justice and the availability of advisory services intended to assist people on low incomes to exercise their rights to receive social security and benefit from public services.”

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