Research published today by the Law Society adds to growing evidence that the government’s legal aid cuts have been a false economy. The research, conducted by Ipsos MORI, shows a statistical link between getting early legal advice and resolving problems sooner.
Early advice is defined as within three months of the issue first occurring. On average, one in four people who received early advice resolved their problems within three to four months. It took nine months on average for a quarter of those who did not receive early advice to resolve their problems.
Christina Blacklaws, vice-president of the Society, said: ‘Without early legal advice, relatively minor problems can escalate, creating health, social and financial problems, placing additional pressure and cost on already stretched public services.’
The Society has reiterated its demand for legal aid for early advice to be reinstated in housing and family cases.
In housing law, a lack of early advice for minor disrepair matters can mean issues such as faulty electrics or a leaking roof escalate, potentially creating health, social and financial problems. In family law, mediation referrals have plummeted, putting pressure on the courts and, therefore, public finances.
Blacklaws said: ‘The current situation is unsustainable. If early advice was available to those who need it, issues could be resolved before they worsen and become more costly for the individual – and the public purse.’
A report published by the independent Low Commission in 2015 contained a survey of GPs, in which 88% of respondents said lack of access to legal advice on benefit and debt issues was having an adverse impact on patients’ health.
Last month Dame Elish Angiolini QC, who conducted an independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody, said the lack of automatic funding for advice and representation at inquests was a false economy because coroners must go the extra mile to help unrepresented families.
The full report can be found on the Law Society’s website.