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Fears over legal aid to vulnerable

A big reduction in the number of firms offering legal aid for vulnerable families risks creating "advice deserts" in parts of the UK, lawyers have warned.

The Legal Services Commission (LSC) is slashing the number of firms able to offer social, welfare and family legal aid from 2,400 to 1,300.

The Law Society said the move could result in thousands of people struggling to get access to lawyers in parts of the country.

Mark Stobbs, from the society, said Wales, Cornwall, Dorset, Lincolnshire and Humberside are among the areas likely to be worst hit by the cuts.

He told the BBC: "We think this is potentially devastating.

"The LSC is potentially creating advice deserts here, where people simply can't get access to a proper lawyer.

"We are worried about places like Wales where it seems the number of solicitors is being reduced by a half, we are worried about Cornwall where 50 firms are being reduced to less than 10, and places like Poole and Dorset where there is only one firm of solicitors with a contract for over 140,000 people."

The LSC had asked law firms to reapply for the three-year contracts during a revised tendering process, saying the intention was to provide a "better quality service".

The commission's Hugh Barrett said: "We expect to finance the same number of cases in family issues in the next 12 months as in the previous 12 months.

"So this tender exercise is not about reducing expenditure; this is about providing a better quality service to clients in the future."