Legal aid cuts 'could spell the end for most of the not-for-profit advice sector'

Justice Select Committee report says government departments have not properly assessed the impact of the £350m reduction in funding

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament

The government has not sufficiently considered the impact of proposed legal aid cuts on the not-for-profit sector, MPs have claimed.

The Justice Select Committee has been conducting an inquiry into the government's proposal to cut legal aid by about £350m.

A report from the committee, published this week, says that evidence it has gathered from not-for-profit organisations suggests that the cuts to legal aid and other funding reductions "could spell the end for the majority of the not-for-profit advice sector".

It says: "Generally, there was widespread scepticism from the not-for-profit sector that they would be able to fill gaps left by the removal of legal aid."

The report also criticises the government for failing to consult the Cabinet Office until a late stage in the decision-making process.

"It is unsatisfactory that, on the government's own admission, the Cabinet Office has been brought in at a late stage," it says.

"We welcome the work it is doing to assess the situation and to find ways of helping the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors, but we are concerned that leadership and coordination across departments has not covered all relevant areas."

The welfare rights and support charity Lasa had already warned that the proposed cuts would affect the voluntary sector disproportionately.

Paul Treloar, head of policy and communications at Lasa, said he hoped the report would inspire a more coordinated approach between government departments in understanding the impact of the cuts on the sector.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said the report recognised that the Ministry of Justice had provided insufficient evidence to justify proceeding with the cuts.

"It also recognises that – as we have made clear – the proposals could mean an uncertain future for the sustainability of not-for-profit advice providers," she said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said it would soon be publishing its response to all points made in the recent consultation period, and that there would continue to be an important role for not-for-profit organisations to play in the advice sector.

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