With the latest Ministry of Justice figures showing that Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) applications remain stubbornly low, the Public Law Project is calling on practitioners to complete a survey about how the legal aid scheme is used and why it is not working as it should.


Evidence from the survey will be submitted to the Ministry of Justice as it carries out its LASPO Post-Implementation Review action plan in which the Government committed to work with legal practitioners and to consider whether the ECF application process can be simplified.

ECF is available for cases that were removed from the scope of legal aid by LASPO, but it is under-used in comparison to the number of applications anticipated for the scheme. Many of those who could apply for ECF – including lawyers acting on behalf of clients – do not even know it exists.

Public Law Project researcher Emma Marshall said:

“Legal aid practitioners are the only people who can address some of the gaps in current knowledge about how the scheme is actually used. Evidence-based policy-making needs insight from professionals as to why the number of applications to the scheme remains so low.

“Results from the survey will allow us to build a detailed analysis of how the ECF system is operating at present.”

The survey is the first stage in PLP’s Legal Aid Policy Project, which aims to increase access to the ECF scheme. The scope of the research will include immigration, welfare benefits, housing and family law.

Emma Marshall said: “The latest figures show that although the number of applications increased by a modest 21% from April to June this year compared with last year, the rise was driven by an increase in immigration applications. There has been very little movement in applications for welfare benefits, housing and family law, and no explanation offered as to why.

“When Parliament approved the cuts to legal aid brought in by the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act in 2012, it was promised that the ECF scheme would provide a ‘safety net’ for those who could no longer access legal aid.

“The government predicted that the ECF scheme would receive 5,000-7,000 applications per year, with around 3,700 grants. Last year the scheme received just over 3,015 applications across all areas of civil law, and 1,932 of those applications were granted.

“Policy-makers lack the detailed data and in-depth analysis about how the scheme currently operates. This research is vital to legal aid policy development.”

The short survey is available to complete here.