Over 15 million people in the UK are living in legal aid deserts. A new report highlights the extent of deserts for legal advice and assistance across housing, family, and crime. The report hopes to serve as a wake-up call regarding the difficulty for millions of people to access legal aid to seek support and protect their rights. The specific figures across these three areas are 12.45m for housing, 1.09m for family work, and 2.12m for crime.
Jasmine Basran, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Crisis, points out its impact stating that “legal aid plays a significant role in this for people on low incomes where cost can be a barrier to justice. This is especially true for people who are homeless, experience the sharpest end of poverty and can face economic barriers and social stigma.”
Whilst the demand for family work escalated during the Covid-19 pandemic, the legal aid deserts for family work have been impacted by a drop in the number of family legal aid firms over the last decade. As Lubna Shuja, The President of the Law Society of England and Wales states, “we know many people across the country, who are on low incomes, are facing serious legal problems – such as those about to lose their homes or those fleeing domestic violence. 71% of respondents to a Rights of Women survey said it was either difficult or very difficult to find a legal aid solicitor in their area. Worse still, LexisNexis anticipates the real numbers to be “considerably higher”, as family law incidents are less publicised, less likely to be reported, and thus often go by undetected.
‘Very few people in very few types of cases now qualify as being able to receive it’, LexisNexis’ Director of Global Legal James Harper commented. The report highlights the importance of access to early legal advice and also proposes suggestions such as better funding for legal aid, reducing the administrative burden associated with legal aid work, and encouraging more lawyers to provide pro-bono work.