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MPs will pay price for legal aid cuts, young lawyers warn

14 March 2012

MPs will have to work harder to help constituents if they scrap legal aid for immigration, debt and welfare benefits cases, Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) has warned.

YLAL found in a survey of 45 constituencies that more than half the issues constituents wanted to raise with their MP would not receive legal aid if the cuts went through.

During the six months before the survey last summer, researchers found that 38 per cent of MPs’ casework involved legal issues and 71 per cent of MPs had needed to refer constituents to a legal adviser.

Two thirds of them had referred constituents to CABx for legal advice, a slightly lower figure than law centres, and 60 per cent to legal aid solicitors’ firms.

The most frequent issues MPs had to deal with were welfare benefits, detention-related asylum and immigration (which will be funded under LASPO), other immigration (which will not) and housing issues, where the home is not at risk.

For a third of MPs, 25 per cent or more of their caseload consisted of welfare benefits issues, for a dozen MPs a quarter or more of their workload consisted of immigration issues not relating to detention and for a further 11 a quarter or more consisted of housing issues.

Katie Brown, co-chair of YLAL, said MPs were likely to face a “double whammy after the legal aid bill – increased workloads when constituents have nowhere else to go for free or affordable advice, plus the disappearance of local advice agencies where many MPs refer their constituents to at present. In this situation constituency offices would be left to solve residents’ problems alone.

“Of course, more likely is that MPs won’t be able to resolve their constituents’ problems, as they don’t have the necessary resources or expertise to take on the role of the local advice agency,” Brown said.

“This means that constituents would be denied help completely and their problems would escalate until the state would have to intervene at crisis point.”

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