Money held by law firms could be used to help plug the gap left by legal aid cuts, according to a report that calls for the creation of a £100m 10-year national advice and legal support fund.
The Low Commission’s preliminary report on the future provision of social welfare advice suggests that the government should require firms with profits above an agreed threshold to pay the proceeds of an ‘interest on lawyers’ trust accounts’ scheme to the Access to Justice Foundation.
It also proposes measures to make the foundation the recipient of unclaimed damages in collective actions and of dormant funds held by solicitors in relation to companies that have dissolved. These currently go to the Treasury.
The commission, set up by charity Legal Action Group and chaired by crossbench peer Lord Low, said it is imperative that the next government develops a national strategy for advice and legal support for 2015-20.
Following the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, it says there is about £400m per year available to fund advice and legal support services. A further £100m a year is required to ensure a basic level of provision, the report says.
It calls on the government to provide £50m a year by establishing a 10-year national advice and legal support fund to be administered by the Big Lottery Fund. It proposes that the other £50m be provided by national and local statutory, voluntary and commercial funders, such as NHS clinical commissioning groups, housing associations as well as lawyer-funded schemes.
The preliminary proposals follow evidence gathered by the commission over the past nine months from over 230 organisations and individuals. The commission will publish its final report in December.