The Legal Aid Agency has announced that it will not be awarding any civil legal advice contracts for education and discrimination services after 1 September, after receiving ‘insufficient compliant tenders’.
A spokesperson for the agency told the Gazette that it is ‘putting plans in place’ to ensure continued provision after 1 September and will set out its approach shortly.
Families can seek government-funded advice and assistance on discrimination and special educational needs only through the telephone service, which was introduced in 2013 under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.
According to government figures, only one client received face-to-face advice in an education matter through the gateway in the 2016/17 financial year. No one received face-to-face advice in the area of discrimination law.
In 2015 Public Law Project, a charity, published a report showing that the number of special educational needs and discrimination matters through the telephone gateway service was significantly lower than evidenced in figures provided in former Legal Services Commission tenders for gateway services.
The project said last week that the time had come for the Ministry of Justice to recognise that the gateway and associated services do not deliver access to justice or value for money. ‘Our strongly held view is that the MoJ should abandon the [gateway] for these areas of law,’ the charity said. ‘In any event, the lord chancellor now needs to make clear how he proposes to secure that legal aid is made available in discrimination cases, in accordance with his statutory duty.’