Struggling families disqualified from justice despite Supreme Court verdict
This was the headline for an article published by the Law Society last week. “Poverty-hit families are being denied vital help to fight eviction, tackle severe housing disrepair and address other life-changing legal issues, the Law Society of England and Wales revealed today.”
The article went on to report that last year the Supreme Court declared employment tribunal fees unlawful for households on low income because of the sacrifices they would have to make to be able to afford legal costs.
The Law Society president Joe Egan said: “No-one in modern society should have to choose between accessing the justice system and a minimum living standard. The financial eligibility test for civil legal aid is disqualifying people from receiving badly-needed legal advice and representation, even though they are already below the poverty line.”
He was speaking on the publication of a new report commissioned by the Law Society and produced by Professor Donald Hirsch of Loughborough University.
Professor Hirsch said: “Millions of households in Britain today struggle to make ends meet, even when they include someone in work, often because of part-time, low-wage or irregular earnings. Yet in general, the legal aid system requires working people to pay their legal costs, either in full or by making a contribution that low earners would find hard or impossible to afford. Those who are out of work are generally covered by legal aid but may be excluded if they own their homes. The assumption that someone could sell their home to cover a legal bill is out of line with other forms of state means-testing – such as help with care costs, where the value of your home is ignored if you or your partner still live in it.”
The Law Society is asking the government to restore the means test to its 2010 real-terms level, and to conduct a review to consider what further changes are required to address the problems exposed by this report.