More people are being denied access to civil legal aid despite a huge increase in demand fuelled by the recession, Citizens Advice has warned.
A report published today, No time to retire – legal aid at 60, shows fewer people are qualifying for civil legal aid, and barriers such as patchy geographical provision, long waiting times and complex qualifying criteria are preventing eligible people from getting help.
Two surveys carried out by the Citizens Advice Bureau in 2008 and 2009 found that bureaux across England and Wales are regularly finding it practically impossible to find a legal aid lawyer for court and tribunal proceedings, or a Community Legal Services (CLS) lawyer to deal with specialist issues.
More than three-quarters of bureaux had problems finding a CLS lawyer to deal with urgent employment cases, while 75% could not find a lawyer to deal with urgent housing matters, and 68% said they had problems finding someone to take on urgent family cases.
The results were in line with a study by the Legal Services Research Centre in 2007 which found that only 38% of the third of the population who experience legal problems each year succeed in getting help.
A survey carried out by the British Market Research Bureau during March 2009 showed high public support for legal aid. Of the 2,000 people questioned, 92% thought it was either very important (68%) or quite important (24%) for people on low incomes to get legal aid for problems such as debt, benefits, family law, housing and employment.
David Harker, Citizens Advice chief executive, welcomed some of the Legal Services Commission’s initiatives to allow more people to get help.
But he said: ‘To ensure that everyone in society has access to justice and is able to seek help to protect their fundamental rights it is vital these access barriers are addressed as a matter of urgency, especially in the current economic climate when more people than ever are needing to seek advice about civil legal problems.’