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Review highlights scale and impact of legal aid changes

Thursday, 07 February 2019 Mind

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) is a piece of legislation that made changes to the types of legal problem covered by legal aid and to the financial eligibility threshold for applicants.

Mind’s research found that changes made by LASPO have disproportionately impacted on people with mental health problems who are likely to face legal issues in several areas.

The long-awaited first part of the post-implementation review has now been published and highlights the impact these changes are having, along with the ‘Way Ahead’- an action plan accompanying the review.

The review is a lengthy document, at almost 300 pages long, so it’s going to take time to properly digest it. The comment below highlights our initial thoughts.

Responding to the review, Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind, said:

“We are pleased to see this review finally published after much delay. Mind submitted evidence which showed how people with mental health problems are more likely to be affected by changes to the scope of legal aid. It was positive to see this research recognised in the publication, but it’s frustrating to see no explicit Government commitment to lessen the negative impact this legislation is having on people with mental health problems. We are also disappointed that the review seemingly dismisses much of the sector’s evidence of the impact on vulnerable people as anecdotal. After all, it is the real experiences of people that should be taken into account, for example, people who are severely unwell facing the prospect of representing themselves in court without a lawyer or advocate.

“It’s shocking to see the extent of the cuts, particularly that there has been a 99 per cent reduction in welfare benefits cases getting legal aid. We know that well over half of people appealing decisions about their disability benefits get the outcome overturned in court. But too often people with mental health problems tell us that they’re too unwell to face the lengthy and onerous process of taking an appeal without support – leaving too many people locked out of the benefits that they should be entitled to. More positively, the Ministry of Justice has committed to reviewing means tests, piloting early advice, and scrapping the mandatory telephone gateway for debt and discrimination issues – two of the more common legal problems facing people with mental health problems.

“What we now need to see is the Government urgently put these recommendations into place, given that in the meantime vulnerable people facing multiple legal issues are having to go through a stressful process without support, often making them more unwell. Limiting legal aid was a cost-saving exercise, yet costs are being felt elsewhere – as people’s mental health worsens, the impact is being felt by our NHS too.”

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