As The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) publish their long-awaited Legal Aid Means Test Review, here’s how we think the proposals will help – and hinder – access to justice within the means testing system.

The legal aid means test has long created obstacles to justice, raising concerns that have been voiced by PLP and other organisations in the legal aid sector. We are encouraged to see some of these issues addressed in the Review, but access to justice barriers still remain.

For example, the proposal to raise capital and income thresholds will, in theory, increase the scope for legal aid eligibility.

But despite many positive aspects, we are remain concerned about the following:

  • The lack of a clear timetable for implementing the changes. Following the consultation, changes need to be implemented quickly in order to help people facing problems as the cost of living continues to rise.
  • That Universal Credit claimants will no longer be passported for civil legal aid. This will make it harder for people to know if they qualify, create extra work for providers and will leave some without the legal advice, assistance or representation they need.
  • That low income homeowners will still face hurdles to accessing legal aid, subject to a full capital assessment and with legal aid turned into a loan that they may be unable to pay back. We’ll be taking a close look at these changes to trapped capital rules.

The proposed changes introduce additional complexity which will require further structures in place to ensure individuals – particularly those from marginalised groups – are not unfairly impacted.

We believe an independent right of appeal is needed against Legal Aid Agency means assessments to ensure this safety net.

Finally, further action will be needed to ensure there are still legal aid lawyers to assist people who are eligible. The Justice Select Committee heard there are 40% fewer providers of civil legal aid than in 2010, calling for ‘decisive action’ by Government. There is nothing in these proposals to reverse that trend and the timescale for the MoJ’s ‘internal review’ on sustainability of civil legal aid is unknown.  

Read our full response

Get in touch with our casework team if you think you have been wrongly refused legal aid