Sustainability of immigration legal aid is at further risk following a recent consultation which fails to meet the Government’s own commitments to improve the sector, as we investigate in a joint response with Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association

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While we welcome the government’s commitment in Immigration Legal Aid: A consultation on new fees for new services to ensure legal aid practitioners are ‘adequately remunerated for the immigration and asylum work they do’, we are concerned that these commitments could be rendered toothless by the notable absence of a strategy to secure the sustainability of the legal aid sector.

Instead, the proposals may in fact have a negative impact on the financial viability and sustainability of the legal aid market in immigration and asylum law.

The consultation, which forms part of the new tribunal procedures and legal aid provisions contained in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, fails to offer an increase in legal help fees or Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) work. Also missing are changes to the scope of legal aid to bring back matter like refugee family reunion, for which ECF is routinely granted, which PLP has previously identified as an unnecessary barrier to legal aid.

The following six issues must be urgently considered by the Ministry of Justice to ensure the government’s commitments to improving sustainability are realised:

  • Expanding the scope of legal aid, to new areas other than those prescribed in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, including bringing back within the scope of legal aid human rights immigration cases based on the right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • Raising hourly rates, which were introduced on 1 October 2007 and have not risen, but were further cut in 2011, which in practice means that their value has decreased. This fall will only be exacerbated by the increase in inflation and the cost of living crisis.
  • Reforming ECF: extensive research by PLP demonstrates the extent to which the ECF scheme creates an unnecessary and harmful barrier to justice for individuals within the immigration system; contributes to making the legal aid scheme for providers unviable as a whole; and, that it cannot be justified in economic terms when grant rates for immigration are so high.
  • Addressing advice deserts in England and Wales to ensure there is surplus capacity to meet demand in new areas.
  • Addressing limited capacity of immigration and asylum legal aid providers, including in areas which are not advice deserts.
  • Addressing cash flow problems of providers created by the rigid structure of the legal aid system.

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