A £5m emergency discretionary fund for those affected by last month's Grenfell Tower fire will not affect their eligibility for legal aid, the Law Society has confirmed.
The government has signed a statutory instrument giving the Legal Aid Agency discretion to disregard for the purpose of means testing payments from the £5m emergency fund announced four days after the fire as well as money from charitable sources.
Joe Egan, Society president, said Chancery Lane was 'pleased' the government has addressed the legal aid concerns. Earlier this week Alison Mohammed, director of services at homelessness charity Shelter, told an all-party parliamentary group meeting that the charity was trying to find out whether the fund would be taken into account when the government assesses means.
Egan said today: 'State funding is still available for some legal issues that people affected by the Grenfell fire are facing and we have been liaising with the Legal Aid Agency to ensure the emergency payments made to residents of Grenfell Tower - from government and charities - will not affect survivors' eligibility for legal aid.
The discretionary power granted to the agency 'is vital as those who may most need legal aid are those who are most likely to have also received lump sump payments', Egan added.
The Society is working with North Kensington Law Centre, the agency and Ministry of Justice to provide further legal aid information relating to the Grenfell tragedy for solicitors and clients.
The law centre is running daily clinics to help residents affected by the disaster receive legal support as well as sessions to help residents gather documents and paperwork required for future claims. The centre's JustGiving page to assist victims has raised £45,135 so far.
Egan said: 'Legal aid is a lifeline for the vulnerable. Early legal advice can help people sort out their problems and prevent them from having to rely on welfare support or involve the courts.
'Justice is an essential public service - equal to healthcare or education - that should be accessible to everyone. Legal aid cuts have fallen disproportionately on the most economically deprived, vulnerable members of society.'
Carol Storer, director of the Legal Aid Practitioners' Group, told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid this week that 933,815 new civil legal aid matters were started in 2009-10, a figure which dropped to 146,618 in 2016-17. 'Do these people not need this advice? Where are they going?' she asked.