The Ministry of Justice has announced it will press ahead with proposals to increase immigration legal aid rates by 15% for work related to the Illegal Migration Act, despite concerns raised by 95% of those consulted.

Read our previous response to the Ministry of Justice consultation here.

Lawyers from the Public Law Project say this move misses the scale and nature of the problems with access to justice in immigration, as in many parts of the country, there are simply no immigration and asylum legal aid lawyers left.

Public Law Project lawyer Emma Vincent Miller said:

“On the one hand, no one in the legal aid sector is against the idea of a rise in immigration legal aid fees. An increase is desperately needed at a time where legal aid providers are at breaking point and vulnerable people are routinely unable to access advice.

“And yet, increasing rates for Illegal Migration Act work alone represents the worst of sticking-plaster policymaking. This creates perverse incentives for providers to undertake Illegal Migration Act work to the detriment of other work, such as assisting clients with initial asylum claims in the backlog.

“The Ministry of Justice has failed to listen to legal aid firms who say the rates, including these Illegal Migration Act rates, are unsustainable. It is the reason why immigration lawyers have been leaving legal aid in droves, creating legal aid advice deserts and making it impossible for many to find a legal aid lawyer.”

Our recent report An Ocean of Unmet Need demonstrated the scale of the legal aid crisis. Research showed that across England and Wales, charities supporting refugees and asylum seekers make on average 16 attempts before securing a legal aid lawyer.

Capacity is already at breaking point across the UK, even before the Illegal Migration Act. Even in London, which has the highest number of providers, one refugee charity was able to successfully refer clients in only 4.1% of 864 attempts.

Public Law Project lawyer Emma Vincent Miller said:

“As legal aid rates have not increased since 1996 – that’s 27 years ago – a 15% increase is insufficient.

“The Ministry of Justice should now urgently increase fees across the board for all immigration legal aid work and invest in a dwindling provider base crippled by years of underfunding.”

Find out why we criticised the 15% increase by reading our original response to the consultation and our research report An Ocean of Unmet Need.