Government picture of advice sector ‘not up to date’
Topics: Legal aid and access to justice
Latest government research on not-for-profit providers of legal advice does not paint the most up-to-date picture of the sector, a leading advice network has said.
The Ministry of Justice’s Survey of Not for Profit Legal Advice Providers in England and Wales was conducted to develop a ‘baseline’ of the profile of not-for-profit advice providers, to describe their clients and to provide an indication of how they have been affected by cuts under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) and other reforms.
The last sector-wide research was conducted a decade ago.
Nearly half (49%) of the 1,462 organisations identified as not-for-profit legal advice providers responded to the latest survey. The main-stage telephone interview fieldwork took place between December 2014 and February 2015.
The report acknowledges that the findings ‘cannot be inferred to the overall sector’ since the ministry did not have details about non-responding organisations.
‘The findings based on responding organisations, however, paint a picture of a sector that appears to be adapting to change,’ it says.
’Although the findings show that some organisations are shrinking, there is also evidence to show that others have expanded and are anticipating continued service provision going forward.’
However, the Law Centres Network said the ‘supposedly stable finance picture, reflecting fieldwork carried out in early 2015, is already out of date’.
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy and profile, said the Advice Services Transition Fund, which was still available at the time of the survey, has been discontinued.
Local authorities were a primary funder ‘but now face a 6.7% funding cut by 2020 so are likely to cut support’.
‘Also, until last spring, contract holders could still bill LASPO work, so it is only since then that we can see the LASPO regime in isolation,’ Ben-Cnaan said.
‘The main replacement for statutory funding is charitable grant funding, but this normally supports fixed-term projects and not ongoing services. It may replace funds now, but in the longer-term services may become more precarious.’