Advice bureau warning over legal aid cuts

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PLANS to slash legal aid will leave many people with nowhere to turn for expert help with urgent and serious problems, Eastbourne Citizens Advice Bureau warned this week.

The CAB is worried that more than half a million people on low incomes could be cut off from free advice on legal problems involving important family issues, welfare benefits, employment, housing, education and debt as a result of Government proposals to cut legal aid by £350 million.

If the plans go ahead, most of these issues will no longer qualify for legal aid except in very limited circumstances, and people on low incomes will be asked to pay more than ever to get the legal advice they need.

Its concerns have prompted the bureau to join the ‘Justice for All’ campaign to ensure everyone is treated fairly under the law, no matter who they are, how much money they have or where they live.

The campaign is a coalition of legal and advice agencies, charities such as Mind, Scope and Kids’ Company, trade unions, community groups and members of the public.

CAB manager Alan Bruzon said, “Every year Eastbourne CAB and BHT Eastbourne Advice help around 2,000 people at moments of real need, thanks to funding from civil legal aid.

“If people can’t access legal help, the consequences can be dire – spiralling debt, homelessness, family breakdown, domestic violence, depression.

“Withdrawing legal aid with no alternative on offer will deny access to justice to some of the most vulnerable people in our community, leaving them overwhelmed by problems with nowhere to turn.

“What’s more, this really is a false economy. The entire legal aid budget is equivalent to only two weeks’ worth of public funding to the NHS.

“Yet the savings to the taxpayer are on a scale of up £10 to every pound put in, if people get legal advice early enough to save costs to other public services further down the line.”

To find out more, or to join the campaign, visit www.justice-for-all.org.uk