Tag Archives: legal aid

Thank you for playing a crucial role in our Legal Aid campaign

Last December, Scope called on supporters to join our campaign to Save Legal Aid for disabled people.

The absence of this advice would have an adverse impact on thousands of disabled people who use legal aid to challenge decisions when they are let down by the system. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which has been making its way through Parliament, plans to remove legal aid support for those appealing welfare benefits decisions.

Thousands of campaigners, keen to protect the provision of legal aid for disabled people when appealing welfare benefits decisions, took their seat in Scope’s virtual House of Lords. By March, over 2,000 campaigners had taken part in our campaign, telling the Government the adverse consequences this would have for disabled people and helping to pile the pressure on Ministers to revise their plans.

This led to a real breakthrough when Lords from across all parties expressed their discontent with the Bill and defeated the Government’s plans by 237 votes to 198. This was a great success and was the culmination of the efforts shown by all campaigners. Together, we made sure the Lords understood the significance of this issue and forced the Government to think again about its plans.

On 17 April, when the Bill returned to the House of Commons, MPs once again debated the impact of removing legal aid for welfare benefits cases. This time, the Government listened to concerns that legal aid advice is needed for appealing incorrect benefits decisions although they would restrict the help available to just a small number of very complex benefits appeals. Although we welcome the Government moving on this issue, Scope had concerns about how this promise would practically work and how many disabled people it would reach, so we asked the House of Lords to push the Government to go further.

Disappointingly, on 25 April, the House of Lords voted against our amendment which would have kept legal aid advice for disabled people appealing incorrect welfare benefits decisions.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has now moved on to the next stage and is soon to become law, without the crucial change that we were campaigning for.

Although we are disappointed with this outcome, Scope will be doing all that we can to press the Government to make sure that the concessions that they have made are workable in practice and help as many disabled people as possible.

The support of our campaigners was invaluable in forcing the Government to open up legal aid to a number of welfare benefits appeals, as well as putting them under considerable pressure to make more money available for the advice organisations who provide disabled people with much needed general advice.

The fight is not yet over, and everyone at Scope would like to thank you once again for playing a crucial role in this campaign.

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Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill 2010-12

The Impact of Legal Aid cuts on Disability Equality North West

Guest post by by Melanie Close, Chief Executive of Disability Equality North West

Disability Equality North West is a Disabled People’s Organisation that started in 1996. We are run and controlled by disabled people and offer a wide range of advice and information services to support disabled people.

We are proud of the work that we do and the positive impact that the advice we are able to provide can have for disabled people. The advice that we are able to provide is largely thanks to the exceptional work by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, all disabled people.

We know that this advice and information is invaluable, without it many disabled people would not get the information, support and benefits that they are legally entitled to. However, there are some things that we do not have the expertise to give advice on. For discrimination, human rights or complex welfare benefits cases, legal aid can be crucial in ensuring that disabled people get the correct advice in order to receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

However, the Government is proposing to remove social welfare cases from the scope of legal aid. The removal of legal aid for these cases will mean that the specialist advice provided by charities like the Citizens Advice Bureau, Law Centres and other independent advice agencies will not be available.

Furthermore, the proposals will mean that 78,000 disabled people will be denied specialist legal advice for complex welfare benefits problems – that is 58% of the total number of people affected.

As well as the devastating impact on disabled people, we have real concerns that such proposals will place real pressure on advice services such as Disability Equality.

We are anticipating a huge surge in demand for specialist advice that our staff and volunteer base does not have the specialist legal advice to deliver. Furthermore, when disabled people approach us for advice on a complex welfare benefits issue, there will be no-one to send them to so that they can receive the right advice.

The Bill is due back in the House of Commons on 17 April, where MPs will vote on whether to preserve this legal advice for disabled people. At Disability Equality North West, we have written to our local MP to make our concerns clear, and I would urge you to do the same to preserve legal aid for disabled people.

Scope’s call of Lords Help Us answered as Government is defeated

Members of the House of Lords once again gave the Government a further bloody nose over proposals to cut legal aid.

Peers are in the final stages of scrutinising the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which attempts to save £350 million by limiting the availability of legal aid. But so far the House of Lords is far from convinced.

Following three defeats on Monday night, the Government lost three more. Most significantly, the Lords voted to keep legal aid for people who need advice and support to appeal incorrect decisions about their benefits – most of these people are disabled.

This advice can be crucial in ensuring that disabled people receive the support to which they are entitled and, at a time of such a dramatic overhaul of the welfare benefits system, it is more important than ever before.

Scope and our supporters have been campaigning tirelessly on this issue – particularly calling on the Lords to save legal aid for disabled people in the innovative Lords Help Us campaign. And we were heard.

There were some particularly powerful speeches from Peers who demanded that the Government not take this vital advice away. Introducing the debate, Baroness Doocey said that “the decision to press ahead with the proposals… sends a very confused message to the disabled people that the Government have promised to protect.”

Lord Low added, “The proposal to remove legal aid for welfare benefits cases represents a triple whammy for disabled people”, while the Bishop of Exeter called on his own experience with his disabled daughter to call on the Government to save this legal advice, which gives “essential help to ensure that disabled people have access to the benefits and support to which they are entitled”.

This is a significant victory for campaigners, and we are now determined that the Government sits up and thinks about the impact that this Bill will have on disabled people.

However, the battle is far from over. The Bill will now return to the House of Commons where we can expect the Government to try to force through the changes. We saw the Government use ‘financial privilege’ to reject the changes that the House of Lords made to the Welfare Reform Bill, and we must work to keep up the pressure on MPs to make sure they realise how important this help and advice is to disabled people so that this not repeated.

We called upon Peers to help us save legal aid, and they did. Now we must ask MPs to finish the job.