Aug 142014


Disabled people are more likely than all other groups to be impacted by the cuts to legal aid. The Ministry of Justice conducted an equality impact assessment which concluded “that overall the proposals have the potential to impact a greater proportion of women, BAME people and ill or disabled people.” 1 The assessment found that, whilst 19% of the general population have a long-term illness or are disabled, the figure was 58% of those receiving legal aid for welfare benefit claims. To get legal aid for a discrimination case, disabled people must use a telephone gateway, and there are now only three firms allowed to apply for legal aid for discrimination claims. This has resulted in a massive drop in the number of people getting legal aid for this type of case; in terms of discrimination cases there is a 77% shortfall in the predicted take-up since these restrictions were introduced2.


If you have been personally affected . For example have been unable to claim support, had to part claim, or had to represent yourself in court and would be willing to talk about this to a Guardian journalist please contact as soon as possible.


It is only by talking about how we are affected that we are able to get these issues out to the public.



1Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales: Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) June 2011, See Table 6, in particular

2See “Civil legal aid – the secret legal service”, a report published by Legal Action Group in September 2013 reviewing the figures for legal aid take-up in the first quarter of 2013-14.


Apr 142014

Are you interested in challenging the government’s huge increase in court fees?

We need people eligible for legal aid to get in touch with Karen before the 22nd April

Don’t let them get away with it without challenge!

The fee hike – coming in later this month – will affect people bringing a wide range of civil cases, including consumer claims, family cases, personal injury claims, landlord-tenant disputes, and private discrimination cases. It means that only those with deep enough pockets to afford these expensive new fees will be able to take cases to court to uphold and protect their rights.

If you think you might be eligible for Legal Aid and are interested in acting as a claimant in a judicial review challenge to the new fees then please contact me directly

With your contact details

Thank you, Karen


Mar 282014

NAPO, a member of Justice Alliance are striking on the 31st March and 1st April. London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association and Justice Alliance will join their protest on 1 April 2014. The protest will take place outside Westminster at 2.15 and then march to the MoJ at 3.30 where a birthday card will be delivered to Chris Grayling and we will sing an ‘alternative’ rendition of Happy Birthday.

Happy birthday to you
You want justice for the few
No more justice for the many
Only justice for you

twitter: @justallianceuk

image justice alliance

Dec 302013

As a grassroots campaign group DPAC wouldn’t exist without the dedication of all those who give their time to exposing what is happening: coming out on the streets, writing reports, researching, writing web content and policy critiques, heading up and being part of the growing number of local DPACs, organising events, engaging with social media and a whole set of other stuff that keeps DPAC vibrant, active and strong – its thanks to you that DPAC exists.  DPAC also want to thank the growing number of grassroots groups, individuals, academics, supporters, unions and organisations we’ve worked with in 2013.

2013 began with DPAC being awarded campaign of the year for our work in 2012 the year ends with DPAC being named as ‘people of the year’ by Owen Jones. In 2013 DPAC supported many local based protests on transport, the bedroom tax, ILF, local authority cuts and privatisation. We blocked roads protested against fuel poverty, fracking, the loss of legal aid, the bedroom tax, the closure of ILF and more. We set up Reclaiming our Futures 7 days of action joined by hundreds to celebrate the gains of the disabled peoples’ movement and to protest at the effects of imposed austerity on disabled people. DPAC launched the UK Disabled Peoples’ Manifesto which was followed by an EDM.We also published a number of reports.

There was cause to celebrate: the Government were ruled to have made the decision to close the Independent Living Fund unlawfully. Mental Health Resistance network succeeded in winning both case and appeal by the Government on the discrimination of the WCA. DPAC were approached by the UN prior to Raquel Rolnik’s UK visit to feed-in –her findings on the bedroom tax were devastating for the Government. DPAC led a whole range of events and join events on benefit justice to join together and fight the evils that this Government have imposed. While every protest, every campaign, every new network and every exposure of this Government is a success, we received growing numbers of emails from those left without money, food, homes and suffering cuts to their support.

In 2014 we must continue to fight and take all actions we can to change and expose the devastation this Government is causing to disabled people.

You can subscribe to receive all DPAC web posts or become a DPAC member at join us on twitter @Dis_PPL_Protest or on Facebook

 Key highlights of DPAC actions from 2013 below….


DPAC were awarded campaign of the year (2012) by Lipstick Socialists. They said: The fight back by disabled people as the Con/Dem Govt stripped some of the most ‘vulnerable’ sections of the community of their benefits. Their campaign against Atos (who made the decisions) during the Paralympics was inspiring and they have led the way in the fightback against the Con/Dem Govt. – See more at:

Co-op Campaign: stop the Atos Contract! Launched to publicise that Co-op were thinking of renewing a three year Atos contract for occupational health-Eventual outcome Co-op publically state they wouldn’t renew the contract with Atos.

DPAC call Vigil on Judicial Review initiated by Mental Health Resistance Network on WCA

Benefit Justice organising meeting by Tenants, DPAC unions and others held in London. We also live streamed London DPAC meeting so that everyone could access it. Annie Howard exposed Atos and DWP in relation to the data protection Act Alan Shellbrooke a Tory MP said he wanted to introduce US style cards for those on benefits. We also linked with Fuel Poverty Action for the first of the 2013 actions on Fuel Poverty. We urged everyone to have their say on the Care Bill and to mention the ILF issues and posted advice on the Bedroom Tax and Discretionary Housing Payments and how to access them ahead of this inhuman misery. Condemn Love anti-Atos song by the excellent Kevin Robbins got it’s first airing


Victory for Daniel Roque Hall and Winvisable as Daniel is released from prison. Annie and Bob uncovered The Atos and DWP’s Land of make Believe

Owen Jones donates some of his prize from young writer of the year (donated by Lord Ashcroft) to DPAC

We publicised the workfare cases The judgment on cases brought by Cait Reilly and Jamie Wilson mean that all but one of the Government’s workfare schemes (Mandatory Work Activity) that force unemployed people to work unpaid or lose benefits have been deemed unlawful. As we know IDS went off and rewrote the law- See more at:

We publicised an update on the Bedroom Tax, unfortunately not rewritten by IDS or anyone else. The post by Frank proved to be an unfortunate prediction of what was to come.

On ILF we produced a template letter for MPs and our collected FoIs on what Local authorities responses were to the ILF consultation

Whitehall Traffic was brought to a standstill outside the Dept of Energy and Climate Change

Unum were finally nailed on driving Governments’ on welfare cuts

DPAC and Inclusion London issued a statement on ILF while our National English DPOs remained silent

Annie Howard exposed the myths around the support group and ESA

Atos and the treatment of mental health users and survivors was further exposed through You Tube, while  Kate Belgrave asked where were the MFCs at Atos – we’re still looking…

A letter from Ed Miliband was publicised after it was sent to us by a supporter

DPAC joined the campaign against the privatisation at Barnet and the great Crapita takeover

We launched a campaign against Colin Brewer who said that disabled children should be put down – he later resigned, but tried to put himself forward in a subsequent election process.

We published an email from one of our supporters which asked SCOPE what it was doing to save ILF , SCOPE suggested they get in touch with  DPAC


We reposted the excellent Nick on ESA Process in Chaos and the Government cover-up

As DPAC is on the working group of the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL)  against European austerity and its effect on disabled people we asked you to write to your MEPs to support  a push to get this debated in the European Parliament

March 13th was the court case on ILF in which 5 ILF users took the DWP to court against the proposed closure of ILF in 2015 We stepped up the campaign to publish stories of ILF users and those that would have benefited from ILF if it hadn’t been closed to new users in 2010 by Miller without even a dodgy consultation process.

 The Benefit Justice Summit co-organised by DPAC in London brought together unions, grassroots groups, lawyers and tenants groups

We publicised news for parents of disabled children in the private rented sector and how they could claim money back from the DWP

Beth Tichbourne was fined £745 plus costs for saying that David Cameron had ‘blood on his hands’ in an outrage that we should never forget

We publish an update on ILF court case with video


DPAC and our sister org Black Triangle issue a joint statement on Labour and Bedroom tax

DWP and Government lies on ILF closure are exposed by DPAC in previously classified papers and memos from the DWP to ministers

ESA appeals increase by 70% DPAC reposts Nick’s analysis

Disability charities consistent apathy for disabled peoples’ lives, but not for their high salaries for directors was highlighted yet again

DPAC supported local protests and campaigns and also protests against staff cuts on railways and transport protests


April was the month that the condemns brought in more of their cuts for ordinary people the hated bedroom tax, the end of council tax support, the benefit cap and more

DPAC and UKUncut served eviction notices on our ‘favourite’ MPs –they had too many bedrooms –a complaint was put into You Tube who were told to remove the videos of IDS’ mansion

The TUC disabled workers refuse to join the Government sponsored Disability Action Alliance hosted by Disability Rights UK (DRUK)

After news that the 5 ILF users that took the DWP to court had lost the case processes began to appeal the decision and still not a word of support from the big Disability charities or the aforementioned DRUK

DPAC learns of a man who was arrested and tried in a secret court and jailed due to Atos –DPAC launches a campaign

We also supported and co-organised a number of Benefit Justice summits across the country, supported more protests on transport and privatisation and continued to support the Barnet crisis


We supported CSRF in protesting at the |PCS conference and their refusal to refuse to implement benefit sanctions

We joined with False Economy in the search for the elusive Mental Function Champions at Atos , Dr Greg Wood  quits Atos and turns whistle blower

DPAC publishes info on Hardship payments and budgeting loans as we get more and more emails from people caught in the poverty and sanction traps set by the DWP –the post has been shared over 36,0000 times

Black triangle meet with Scottish Government to discuss regulations regarding Atos and GPs

The Mental Health Resistance Network win against Government on WCA , but spectra of legal aid cuts is raised too

DPAC and the TUC disabled workers block Tottenham Court Road in an act of solidarity

DPAC publishes a critique of UKIP

DPAC’s own Ellen Clifford talks to real fare


June 1st marked a day of UK wide protests against the bedroom tax attended by DPAC

DPAC publishes stats by Nick that show the huge hike in sanctions under the Coalition

DPAC holds a Birthday party protest for ILF

The fight against the Bedroom tax continues with protests and new groups springing up and supporting each other across the country

DPAC publishes Lies, Damn IDS and Statistics


DPAC releases its program for 7 days of action, campaigns and protest: Reclaiming Our Futures

DPAC joins protest at Downing Street against the bedroom tax

DPAC joins Justice Alliance to protest against cuts to legal aid

DPAC joins vigil for case against bedroom tax outside the Royal Courts of Justice

DPAC posts a list of advice and legal resources as emails from people in severe hardship escalates further

Sisters of Frida go to Geneva to challenge the situation for disabled women at the UN

We list the MPs that voted against a cumulative impact assessment

Southwark DPAC challenge local politicians

Government Issues ministerial statement on Atos

Bromley/Croydon DPAC join UKUncuts Stuff the Banks

DPAC takes part in the anti-fracking protests at Balcombe where Caroline Lucas is arrested


Updates for Reclaiming Our Futures 7 days of Action

UK Disabled peoples’ Manifesto launched

John McDonnell puts forward an Early Day motion on the UK Disabled Peoples’ Manifesto put together by DPAC, Inclusion London, ALLFIE and Equal Lives Norfolk

Early Day Motion 483: Disabled People’s Manifesto
That this House warmly welcomes the launch of the UK Disabled People’s Manifesto, Reclaiming our Futures, developed by disabled people and their organisations across the UK, which sets out the shared vision of disabled people for an inclusive and equal society free from economic, social and cultural barriers; and urges all political parties represented in this House to engage in a constructive dialogue with the disabled people’s organisations promoting the manifesto with the aim of achieving its objectives. – See more at:


DPAC are asked by UN to assist Raquel Rolnik UN Special Rapporteur on Housing prior to her visit to the UK . The visit and her findings that the bedroom tax is regressive and unfair cause Tory ministers to say she should sort her own country out, she is a Marxist and produce other ridiculous statements in the right wing media

DPAC block the front entrance of BBC for non reporting of the true situation in the UK under welfare cuts as part of the Reclaiming Our Futures 7 days of action

DPAC host art exhibition and night of entertainment, plus a day debate on the continued relevance of the Social Model with Anne Rae, Colin Barnes and Debbie Jolly

The Brilliant Kate Belgrave writes on protests and Government Extremism, protests are held outside the DWP, the Department for Education, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Health before moving on to Parliament to host the launch of the UK Disabled People Manifesto: ‘reclaiming our Futures on the UK Freedom Drive day part of the Reclaiming Our Futures week of action


DPAC posts UK Freedom Drive film by Reel News


See also





DPAC works with Just Fair on Independent Living Issues ahead of a planned visit by the UN special rapporteur on disability

We publish George Berger from Sweden report on Atos, KPMG and the NHS

DPAC launches a new report on the WCA

Two of the DPAC co-founders go to Strasbourg to join the European Network on Independent Living for the 6th ENIL Freedom Drive to march to the European Parliament and tackle MEPs. Debbie Jolly is elected to serve another term on the ENIL Board and presents on behalf of DPAC on protest and what is happening in the UK under imposed austerity

DPAC co-organises with Wow Petition for 10,000 Cuts Memorial for those that have died through Atos and in solidarity with all suffering under Cameron’s regime of imposed austerity see also

Dr Alison Wilde discusses the Paralympic Legacy

DPAC supports the Ontario Coalition against Poverty who Government want to follow the lead of the UK in denying people their entitlements


IDS found misleading again

DPAC and Black Triangle consider legal action against GPs who refuse to provide evidence for disabled people and those with long term health issues

Anita Bellows write another stunning piece exposing the bedroom tax

DPAC organises vigil for Mental Health Resistance WCA case appeal by DWP

DPAC joins UKUncut to protest to save Justice

DPAC join in protests against staff cuts on London Tubes also see

DPAC publicises Punishing Poverty a report on Sanctions by Manchester CAB

DPAC publishes info on mandatory reconsideration

UK Disability history month kicks off


ILF users win appeal, Government say they won’t fight decision –a success but we wait for the Government next moves

DPAC reposts the critique of the Henwood and Hudson report as some in the disability field still claim that ILF should close

DPAC ask members and supporters to write to Penning on ILF

Anita Bellows asks why Litchfield as ‘independent’ assessor of the WCA when he was involved in its design

DPAC publishes info on fuel poverty as we receive more emails from people without heating or electricity due to sanctions and welfare cuts

Independent Living rights News is published on DPAC

Paddy Murphy writes on the apparent idiocy of DECC

DPAC attends the bedroom tax lobby at Parliament

DPAC , Fuel Poverty Action and the London Pensioners are joined by hundreds on the streets to protest at unacceptable fuel poverty and deaths while the energy companies continue to make huge profits

DPAC supports ALLFIE’s campaign on no return to segregated education

DPAC and Inclusion London hear heartbreaking testimonies from disabled people affected by the cuts. We send them to the special rapporteur on disability.

DPAC and Inclusion London hold an Emergency  lobby at Parliament on Independent living to launch the DPAC report on Independent Living

Mary Laver and ILF user film on life without ILF is posted

The Disability Crime Network write to the attorney General on disability hate crimes


Anne Novis writes on hate crime

Belgium vote yes on euthanasia for minors now accepted as law

DPAC urges members and supporters to join Boycott Workfare in online action against workfare

We publicise Habinteg’s report on the effect of the bedroom tax on independent living

Government lose appeal against decision that WCA discrimates against those with mental health issues.  The Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) who instigated the case against the WCA celebrate another victory. MHRN a grassroots group were later joined by the charities, but without MHRN the case would not have got to the courts.

DPAC joins Boycott Workfare in targeting companies replacing paid work with workfare

DPAC support ALLFIE’s call for action

We publicise Equal Lives’ video on how the cuts effect at the local level

DPAC posts video by Colin Barnes on the importance of the social model by UCU

DPAC attends open meeting with Mike Penning

DPAC publicises the case of Anthony  Kletzander’s  treatment in Ireland at the hands of ‘professionals’ as he is denied basic rights

Owen Jones names DPAC as one of his ‘person of the year’ choices for 2013








Sep 162013

On Wednesday morning (18th Sept) the Liberal Democrats Conference discusses an emergency motion on legal aid which calls on the Government to ‘stay’/stop its proposals.


We need to lobby MPs to get them to support the motion as this could put some pressure on the Government and Grayling. Attached is a list of the Lib Dem marginals and London seats. Can you please email your Lib Dem MP in advance of Wednesday’s debate. You can find their email on this website

See attached template word doc which you may wish to use, which draws on the sexual abuse of immigration detainees case in the Observer as a perfect example of the seriousness of these cuts.


Download Template email here: Template email

Liberal Democrat marginal seats

Liberal Democrats seats in London

May 222013

On the 22 May the Mental Health Resistance Network won their Judicial Review case against the Atos tests (WCA) and the impact on those with mental health issues. We congratulate them, the two people that took the case and the solicitors for the work they have done in exposing the WCA for the nightmare that it is for those with mental health issues and all disabled people. The DWP say they will appeal the ruling: we hope this is the beginning of the end for the WCA and the horrors that it is putting people through. However, this success would not have been possible without legal aid, and is tempered with further fears of the legal aid cuts.

 The Condems have already pushed through some of their wealth charter on justice and legal rights through their punitive cuts to legal aid for those facing benefit problems. Its not over yet-they now want to re-examine the process of Judicial reviews. However, the cuts so far are already affecting the process of judicial reviews because the new rules mean that those solicitors who take cases are less likely to be paid with the Condem cuts. We do not see all the work that goes into cases nor the effect that the cuts are having on those solicitors and legal firms who believe that justice has no class basis and is not restricted to those with wealth. But the Condems have cut funds to solicitors and CABs which means we have fewer allies to fight our cases. The Condems are doing a great job of removing every element of human rights, welfare and social justice from the British people. We cannot continue to let them get away with it without doing more and more about it.

 The proposals cover a range of aspects of legal aid including criminal work, prison law and judicial review and it can be difficult to get across what it means.

 In judicial review, for example, it’s hard to explain the impact of the proposal to prevent solicitors getting paid for all the work they do on cases if they don’t end up getting permission to go to a full hearing. So many cases succeed before that by just spelling out what the public body is doing wrong so they realise they have to sort it out. But there can be loads of work involved in getting to that stage and it would be really hard if lawyers can’t get paid for that at all. Judicial review lawyers and other legal aid lawyers will try everything they can to keep trying to help people but it just gets harder and harder to survive and already that means it’s hard to find someone skilled enough who can take cases on.

 What is clear is that disabled people will be disproportionately affected within each of the areas that is proposed to be cut – including disabled prisoners and others in the criminal justice system but also in areas like public law/judicial review which disabled people need help with more than ever now because of the effects of other cuts.

 We are trying to encourage as many people as possible to come forward with stories that illustrate the real types of problems they face that legal aid is vital to help with. There is a brilliant website set up by someone from Young Legal Aid Lawyers

 People can submit stories of how legal aid has helped them (or hasn’t been able to help them because of the effect of the cuts already – eg in many areas there are ‘advice deserts’ where you simply can’t get hold of a lawyer with the right expertise). There are several about disabled people unable to fight injustice because of cuts already in place in many areas including the criminal justice system.

 We need to see more experiences good and bad – the issues and what can be done to sort them out are so invisible to most people. There aren’t many examples of disabled people tackling problems with social services cuts etc.

 The website makes it really simple to give the examples. It’s so important to show people that it’s not about lawyers, it’s about people who need advice, and it’s a false economy to deny them that, in so many ways not least undermining the rule of law because people have no real access to justice unless they are wealthy.

 Please help and give your stories

Tweet share on Face Book and pass this on- its up to us!

Please complete the consultation closing date June 4th HERE

More info on Consultation and what is happening HERE

Apr 222012

It’s vital funding which we need to help thousands of people with their benefit appeals

DPAC wants to thank Nick @Mylegalforum once more for letting us post this to DPAC

What we need people to do is contact their local or representative peer in the House of Lords by Monday April 23rd when the legal aid (LASPO) bill goes back to the House of Lords. It’s also worth contacting your MP as they can speak with Peers.

The best links we can find are here..

It’s really easy via the ‘write to them’ link, just enter in your area (Town or County) and it will locate you a ‘peer’ in the House of Lords.

We need as many Peers as possible to be contacted by Monday. Don’t worry too much about the legal aid bill not being their specialist area or which political party they represent (some ‘cross bench’ peers belong to no particular party).

The aim is to contact them to show how much it matters to you.

The site helps you draft your email (you could use my template in next post) or you can write your own. When its ready just copy (by pressing ‘CTRL’ and ‘C’ on your keyboard) then paste into the dialogue box on the ‘write to them’ site’ (by pressing ‘CTRL’ and ‘V’).

You can find out the full list of peers who voted ‘yes’ or ‘no’ via the links here (it was then listed as amendment 11)

If you need convincing that welfare benefit specialists don’t just fill in forms read this..….read=649&page=1

Here’s how people end up winning their benefit appeals with legal aid

It’s very easy!
& very important, here’s why…

For the last 12 years many CAB and law centres have been funded by legal aid and some are very reliant on it because they specialise in areas of law like welfare benefits. The Government has voted to axe this funding which means around 135,000 people per year will no longer be able to get specialist help from paid professionals who win around 75% of their cases. For each case their organisation gets paid a fixed fee of just 150 regardless of how long it takes to complete.

The Tribunals judiciary has predicted that the welfare reforms will result in over 2.5 million people appealing for their benefits between 2010 and 2015; the current figures are seeing a huge increase in appeals – the highest ever. Many people do not realise how vital this funding is to people, especially the disabled. Government has chosen to make savings of 16 million at a time when the need of this help could not be greater, they expect people to fight their cases on their own without help. The Lords have already voted heavily to keep this funding but government says no, they have asked the Lords’ to agree with them – you could make all the difference by persuading them to say ‘NO’.
Read more:


Apr 152012

with many thanks to nick @Mylegalforum for letting us repost see Mylegalforum for more

Here’s how Clarke’s proposals will affect many lives if the Government gets its way this Tuesday – you can kiss goodbye to legal aid for all this..

Clarke is opposing…

(1) A clearer definition of his functions (1)

(2) Access to legal services for domestic violence victims (2)

(3) A better definition of the distinction between him and his director of legal services, but he is putting forward a counter proposal for individual cases which he proposes imposes ‘independence’ (3 & 4 replaced)

(4) Any legal help for welfare benefit work up to first – tier tribunal level (168)

(5) Has made a concession on welfare benefits in the upper tribunal & higher courts which needs to be treated with some degree of caution until its full legal effect is known (169 & 240)

(6) Experts report in clinical negligence cases (170)

(7) Face to face advice – he wants the telephone gateway (24)

(8) Exceptions in respiratory /industrial disease or illness cases (31)

(9) Exceptions in Industrial disease cases where breach of duty by employer (32)

(10) Access to a legal services for a wider number of children (171)

(11) Access to legal services in clinical negligence cases in instances which took place when the victim was a child (172)

Nor is he giving much on domestic violence provisions with the additional opposition of amendments 192 to 196 (excluding 195)

In summary – he’s gone against the Lords on almost everything with some tinkering to suit his government’s aims & a meaningless concession on Upper Tribunal & higher court work in welfare benefit cases which is unlikely to benefit advice agencies given the low number of cases when the bigger problem they face is helping clients with the tsunami of benefits appeals at First Tier level – set to increase to 644,000 appeals per year according to the Tribunal judiciary!

Contact your MP – there are many links to different ways of doing so on the internet. We’ve put one here…….643&page=1#1503


Read more:


Apr 152012

Guest Blog by Frances Trevena a member of Young Legal Aid Lawyers.

It is common knowledge that Government plans to reduce the costs of public services are having a severe impact across society. This austerity plan is having a disproportionate impact on disabled people. It affects benefits, services provided both centrally and from Local Authorities and even basic community amenities that disabled people rely on. It is also affecting access to justice across a range of legal areas.

When you might need Legal Aid

 The effect on access to justice will be particularly profound for disabled people. It may seem that it will not affect the vast majority of people, yet legal advisors in solicitors’ firms, citizens advice bureaux and law centres offer assistance to huge numbers of people who have lost out on benefits – including those who are wrongly assessed as able to work. They also help those who have problems at work, with their families or their homes. But this help is under threat if the Government gets its way on a law about to go before MPs. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (also known as the Legal Aid Bill) sets out Government plans to cut free advice for many types of legal problems.

Physically limiting access

People can currently access legal help in a variety of ways including visiting solicitors’ offices, telephoning a helpline or being referred by advice agencies to specialist services. All of these are designed to assist someone to find a solicitor and calculate whether they are eligible for Legal Aid. The Government has set out proposals to remove the option of face-to-face appointments and require anyone seeking Legal Aid to first contact a telephone advice gateway. The aim would be that this would act as “triage” and filter out those who did not require face-to-face legal advice. Disabled people in particular have seen how many of these contracted-out services are run to the detriment of their users. DPAC have written about the fiasco caused by ATOS carrying out assessments and the issue of benefit cuts.

The Government has now conceded in the face of their own evidence that it would be inappropriate to include Community Care law as part of the initial trial. However, plans remain in place for other areas of Legal Aid law to be accessed through the telephone gateway. The first areas of law to be affected are debt, discrimination and special educational needs. The House of Lords changed the Legal Aid Bill so that the Government would not be able to set-up this mandatory telephone gateway. However, the Government can overturn this amendment when the Legal Aid Bill goes back to the House of Commons on 17 April.

Welfare benefits

The Government wants to remove all welfare benefits advice from the Legal Aid scheme. The House of Lords took a strong stance against this following the Welfare Reform Bill and the increasing pressure to force people onto work programmes. They have changed the Legal Aid Bill so that Legal Aid will continue to be available for appeals against Department for Work and Pension decisions. However, the House of Commons can overturn this amendment when they debate the Legal Aid Bill again on 17 April.

Other areas of law

The areas of law affected by the Legal Aid Bill are huge. If the Government is able to push the legislation through Parliament, then most people will either have to pay to see a lawyer or go without justice. This is particularly important to anyone who is likely to need a solicitor: whether through problems at home, with family or at work. Most likely to affect disabled people are:


–          Clinical Negligence claims: the removal of Legal Aid in gathering reports will mean that before a case is even begun, you will need to fund an expert report.

–          Employment: the Government is seeking to prevent someone from even having an initial publicly funded session with a Legal Aid lawyer. This has greater impact for disabled people, because they are most likely to face prejudice and harassment at work and discrimination in even getting in to work.

–          Housing: Legal Aid will fund only those who are at risk of losing their homes, even where initial advice and assistance could prevent this from happening. This is particularly important if you are living in a home where adaptations have been made for ease of mobility.

Where to, then?

 If the Government proposals go ahead, then those who are no longer eligible for Legal Aid will be seeking access to justice from charities and the not-for-profit sector. However many charities and citizens advice bureaux are facing cuts in funding, not only from a loss of Legal Aid, but also from a reduction in external funding and particularly funds from Local Authorities who are withdrawing their support for services considered non-essential.

It is of particular concern that where advice centres remain they will not necessarily have specialist staff who will be able to deal with specific problems. For disabled people, whose needs are often more complex and intersect a number of different areas, this is worrying.

A recent report from the Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) has highlighted that faced with these cuts and nowhere else to turn people are likely to turn to their MPs to provide assistance. Of the MPs interviewed by YLAL a third of MPs spend somewhere between 50-75% of their time dealing with the issues of their constituents. To make matters worse, at the moment, MPs can refer these cases on to law firms and legal advice organisations if specialist, expert advice is required. Seventy-one per cent of MPs and caseworkers interviewed by YLAL had referred constituents to a legal adviser in the six months preceding the study.

Act now to save Legal Aid

Having faced some amendments to the Bill, which were largely positive in the House of Lords, the Bill is now returning for final consideration in the House of Commons on 17 April 2012. Now is your final chance to have your say and to lobby your MP to act on your behalf.

If you are concerned about the impact of the legal aid cuts on you, and on wider society, please take time to write to your MP urging them to vote for amendments to the Bill. Send them YLAL’s report (find a copy here) or Justice for All’s report on the challenges facing law centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux (available here). A quick link to a letter to your MP is here. Please spread the word now – we only have a few days left to save legal aid.

Frances Trevena is a member of Young Legal Aid Lawyers.

Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) is a group of lawyers who are committed to practising in those areas of law, both criminal and civil, that have traditionally been publicly funded. YLAL members include students, paralegals, trainee solicitors, pupil barristers and qualified junior lawyers based throughout England and Wales. We believe that the provision of good quality publicly funded legal help is essential to protecting the interests of those with least in society and upholding the rule of law.