Law centres are introducing fees and ever more frequently turning down clients in an aim to secure their survival without funding provided by the government for a wide range of legal services. Islington Law Centre located in north London has been forced to introduce fees for its services as well as turn away clients in need of legal aid due to successive cuts to the government budget. The north London centre is an example of the market strategy which will need to be adapted by law clinics across the country in order to secure their survival under the new market conditions.
The month of June saw the closure of Birmingham Law Centre which blamed a shortage in income from clients as well as the well expected decrease in income provided by the government in the form of legal aid. The result of such a crisis ultimately leads to more unemployment with 20 layers being made redundant in Birmingham and a further four being let go by the Surrey Law Centre.
Earlier in the year Law for All which has advice centres located in west London and across East Anglia was forced into administration alongside the Immigration Advisory Service which also had to shut its doors.
An estimated £320m has been cut from the annual budget financing legal aid which has been brought into force by the current government under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. Plans made by the coalition government further worsen the situation as they are expected to take away some £220m every year up until 2018. The expected cuts provide the obvious problem for those charitable organisations that now need to figure out a way to provide advice and representation against no cost for those less fortunate in society.
The Ministry of Justice has put forward the argument that the United Kingdom has a legal aid system which is ranked as one of the costliest in the world with the bill for its provision costing the tax payer £2bn every year. In a statement the MoJ stated that it is their duty to ensure better value for each and every pound of taxpayers’ money which is spent.
In order to ease the cuts the Big Lottery working with the Cabinet Office have provided £67m which is to be handed out to advice centres in order to aid them with the transition. However, out of the sums received only a 25% chunk may be spent on face-to-face legal advice with the rest being allocated for innovation and other related duties.