Thousands set to miss out in legal aid reforms

 

Planned reforms to the legal aid system next month will leave more than 600,000 people suddenly forced to pay for help, regardless of their income.

Of these, over 200,000 a year will miss out because legal aid will not be provided for family law cases which involve separation and divorce, child custody or financial issues arising from changing circumstances.

Alarmingly, more than 70 per cent of the family law cases currently funded by legal aid will – from 1 April – no longer be eligible, according to Christina Blacklaws, the director of family law, at Co-operative Legal Services.

The cuts could leave people extremely vulnerable at a time when they need help the most. The changes come on top of the recent removal of most legal aid funding for people with housing, welfare benefits, debt and immigration problems. But the reforms have left people confused, said Ms Blacklaws.

"With only weeks to go, we are seeing a worrying lack of awareness among our customers of the changes to legal aid and I'm sure that is the case for the public generally," she said.

With many lawyers withdrawing completely from Legal Aid provision, people involved in domestic violence, mediation and child protection cases could struggle to find firms to take them on. The Co-operative, however, has pledged to continue to offer legal aid to qualifying cases after the changes come in.

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