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Issue:- 19 August 2010

Survey reveals grave concerns over future provision of family legal aid in England and Wales

90% of family lawyers believe the latest legal aid moves will damage access to justice and result in widespread redundancies across the profession. Resolution is calling on the government for an urgent public statement of the practical steps they will take to deal with emerging access to justice issues.

“The number of family legal aid firms has been significantly cut with the LSC’s own figures showing a reduction in the number of firms across the country from 4,500 in 2000 to 1,300 in 2010. Our survey of 561 firms has shown us that 40% were wholly unsuccessful in their recent bids to provide family legal aid and 15% were partially successful. These firms have told us that redundancies of up to 542 are expected – and these figures are likely to rise as we hear from other firms who have been affected.   There are signs already of movement in the market, with mergers, acquisitions and movement of staff, but it remains to be seen whether the market can fully adjust quickly enough. Whilst we knew that competitive tendering was coming, delays in the award of contracts has left firms little time to open new offices, make people redundant or plan recruitments.” said David Allison, Chair of family lawyer’s association Resolution. 

The survey of family legal aid lawyers was conducted by Resolution to gain a picture of the immediate impact of the outcomes of a recent bid round on the picture of family law in England and Wales. 

The survey reveals real concerns that that those in need of emergency legal aid such as domestic abuse victims or those in need of specialist legal advice on issues like forced marriage will be unable to find the legal help and advice they need. For example, one of the respondents to our survey said:- “Some of those who failed are the preferred choice for the police Independent Domestic Violence Advocates who are involved in running the women’s refuge. ”

The survey also pointed to signs of emerging advice deserts in a number of areas. Members in Dorset, Cornwall, Bedfordshire and Lincolnshire in particular have expressed grave concerns that the number of legal aid providers will be insufficient to meet demand.

One member commented:- “Cornwall has been decimated in terms of providers – there are now only five providers covering eleven offices across the county. Of those eleven offices, six belong to a single firm. Conflicts are going to be a massive issue.”

David Allison said:- “Our survey has painted a very worrying picture for the future of legal aid provision in England and Wales.  We have pressed the LSC for a full picture of the contracts awarded but this will not be published until the appeals process ends. Our survey tells us that 86% of those who were unsuccessful will be appealing and it is clear that the complete picture is unlikely to emerge until very shortly before the contracts start on the 14 October.  We have written to the Minister and the LSC and are calling on them to immediately and publicly set out the steps they will take and the practical measures they will introduce to meet any emerging access to justice issues.”

Clampdown on cheats nets council £150,000

LIVERPOOL has slashed the number of people fraudulently claiming the single person discount on their council tax bill.

After the city council brought in a new series of checks, more than 600 people have cancelled their discount – generating £150,000 in extra income to the council every year.  And more than 3,000 cases are currently being reviewed which are likely to generate at least an additional £50,000.

Councillor Paul Brant, Deputy Leader of Liverpool City Council, said:- “This is very welcome news. In today’s tough times we have to drive down costs and be more efficient so we can continue to provide essential services.  I am disappointed by the number of people who were obviously claiming single person discount benefit while not being entitled to it. But I make no apology for taking a hard line on people who try and cheat as they are stealing from other residents and drawing valuable resources away from frontline services such as teaching, social work, street cleansing and protecting the vulnerable.  We have instructed Liverpool Direct Limited, who run our Revenues and Benefits Department, to use every available measure to make sure the council gets everything it is owed.  We are facing extremely harsh government spending cuts and the city council will do everything it takes to continue to provide the high quality services that our residents depend on.”

New sound of ‘The Shewsy’

ONE of Liverpool’s oldest youth clubs is making a noise about a £130,000 investment in new facilities.  Shrewsbury House in Everton – known locally as ‘The Shewsy’ – now features a refurbished band practice area for talented local musicians to rehearse and perform. It is dedicated to the memory of 16 year old army cadet Joseph Lappin who was stabbed to death outside the youth centre in 2008.  There is also a new fitness room, showers, an enlarged balcony and snooker area.  The completion of the work is being celebrated on Thursday, 19 August 2010, with an event to be attended by former Liverpool ECHO sports editor Ken Rogers, and including a showcase of local bands including Earthworm and Afro Reggae.  The improvements have been funded by the city council’s Youth Capital Fund together with money secured by the youth club through donations and money from trusts.  The completion of the work will be marked with an opening ceremony on Thursday, 19 August 2010, at 7pm by former Liverpool ECHO sports editor Ken Rogers.  Councillor Ann O’Byrne, cabinet member for the youth service, said:- “This investment in Shrewsbury House Youth Club has provided top quality facilities for local youngsters. The new fitness suite and music room provide a place for teenagers to come and take part in activities that interest them, rather than hanging around street corners. The youth club has around 250 members, and 90 people use it every day."  John Hutchison, Chairman of the Board of Management at Shrewsbury House, said:- “The youth centre is a long established part of life in Everton and is hugely popular with local youngsters. The new facilities will be well used over the coming years and will provide education and enjoyment for our members.”  More information about Shrewsbury House Youth and Community Centre is available online.

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