What we do

Legal aid is the route through which poor and marginalised people should be able to access help, advice and representation when they need to uphold and defend their legal rights through the courts. It is an essential means by which access to justice is secured in the UK.

PLP uses a combination of legal casework, policy work, training and research  to improve access to the current civil legal aid scheme, as well as helping to shape it for the future. Ultimately, we would like to see a legal aid scheme that provides meaningful access to justice, which is accessible to those who need it, able to provide effective legal advice, and sustainable in the long-term.

It has long been recognised that the current system of legal aid is broken and that Exceptional Case Funding – designed to act as a safety net for the most vulnerable – is inadequate.

The aims of Public Law Project’s legal aid work are to:

  • Improve access to the current civil legal aid scheme, including to Exceptional Case Funding
  • Widen the financial eligibility criteria for legal aid (known as the ‘means regulations’)
  • Improve access to legal aid in ‘advice deserts’
  • Improve the sustainability and provision of good quality publicly funded advice, particularly for those detained in immigration detention

As part of its review of LASPO, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) acknowledged the argument put forward by PLP as part of our submissions to the review: people in receipt of Universal Credit should not have to be financially means tested in order to receive legal aid. The MoJ agreed to continue to passport all recipients of Universal Credit through the means test.

The MoJ referenced PLP’s evidence on the eligibility criteria and, even though that was not an issue initially in scope, agreed to review financial thresholds for legal aid. PLP is monitoring closely the development of policy in this area.

Read: The gap between the legal aid means regulations and financial reality

The Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme was designed as a ‘safety net’ to ensure that legal aid could be accessed by the most vulnerable in the wake of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 which placed huge areas of law outside of the scope of legal aid. It was soon apparent that the complexity of the application process and the eligibility criteria meant that access to the scheme was severely restricted. PLP represented claimants in a series of landmark legal challenges between 2014 and 2016 that resulted in significant improvements to the ECF scheme.

Together with our continued initiatives and focus in this area since 2017, which have sought to increase capacity in the third sector to support individuals applying for ECF, the impact of those cases is reflected in the continued growth in numbers of applicants and a significant increase in the grant rate.

In 2018 PLP set an ambitious goal of increasing the number of applications to the Exceptional Case Funding scheme to over 3,000 a year by 2020 with a 60% success rate. We aimed to achieve this through casework, training and by providing support to the legal sector.

In the first year of the scheme, the grant rate was just 1% and only 1,315 applications were made.

At the end of 2019 it was confirmed that 2,601 applications had been made for the year 2018-19 with an overall grant rate of 66%.

Read more about PLP’s impact in increasing access to legal aid in our Impact Report 2017-19

How we do it


PLP represents individuals and charities in strategic cases to challenge restrictions to the availability of legal aid.

If you are a charity or NGO and you would like to speak with one of our caseworkers, please get in touch by emailing casework@publiclawproject.org.uk

Read about the impact of our casework in our Impact Report 2017-19

The Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (‘LASPO’), and the subsequent secondary legislation, significantly changed the way that civil legal aid operates. Changes were made not only to the scope of legal aid, but also to the procedures and processes that clients and lawyers had to follow in order to access funding for legal services.

PLP acted as both instructing solicitors and as a client in some of the most significant cases about LASPO and in legal aid challenges since then. For an over-view of the LASPO cases that PLP has been involved in, read LASPO briefing: Public Law Project Litigation

Case studies of PLP’s legal aid strategic casework include:

Research and policy

PLP publishes research on legal aid to evaluate the impact of funding cuts, to provide evidence of the processes that prevent fair and effective access to justice, and to make recommendations for improvements to the legal aid system.

This research is used to inform legal aid policy decision-makers, parliamentarians and the judiciary, and to support the wider legal aid, charity and advice sectors.

Our researchers and caseworkers work closely together to identify where issues exist and how our work can best respond to and address these issues. We work with a range of partners including legal aid providers and not-for-profit organisations, as well as academics and research bodies.

Read about the impact of our Legal Aid research and policy work in our Impact Report 2017-19

If you work in Government, academia, policy or research, or if you want to know more about our research and policy work in judicial review, please get in touch: research@publiclawproject.org.uk

In 2018, in response to the Ministry of Justice’s call for evidence, PLP prepared a series of research reports and briefings which ultimately informed our submission to the LASPO Post-Implementation Review. You can access these reports and briefings by following the links below:

PLP has also provided evidence to:

  • The Bach Commission on Access to Justice
  • The Commission on Justice in Wales; and
  • The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

As part of PLP’s Exceptional Case Funding work, PLP published:

Working with charities, NGOs and civil society organisations

PLP works with charity and civil society groups to improve access to legal aid for the individuals and groups they support.

With funding from the Lloyds Bank Foundation, PLP worked in partnership with Rights of Women to support women survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence in making applications for ECF.

“As a result of PLP’s help, we were able to assist 23 women to make ECF applications in the areas of family and immigration law and are pleased to report that 22 of those applications were successful. In 20 of the cases, the welfare of children was at stake.” Estelle du Boulay, Director, Rights of Women.

In 2017, PLP worked with the University of Exeter to set up an ECF clinic to support applications for legal aid in immigration and family matters. The clinic significantly raised the profile of the ECF scheme to local people and legal aid providers and helped to grow PLP’s networks in the South West. The clinic also delivered useful research outputs, including a feasibility assessment of extending access to ECF through university law clinics.

If you would like to talk to us about our ECF work, please get in touch: exceptionalfunding@publiclawproject.org.uk  

Training and resources

PLP delivers regular training to organisations who help people to apply for ECF. We also provide follow up support to advice agencies and charities to help them put their training into practice to support their client’s ECF applications.

Get in touch with a member of our training team: events@publiclawproject.org.uk

PLP has published a series of practical guides on how to apply for ECF, covering areas of law including immigration, housing, family, welfare benefits, and on how to apply for ECF without a lawyer. We have also published a toolkit on how to set up and run an ECF clinic.