Four in 10 civil legal aid providers intend to actively quit the fragile sector in the next five years, according to the alarming findings of a provider survey commissioned for the government’s sustainability review.
Many could leave sooner as the survey, conducted by PA Consulting, found that 42% will leave the sector or reduce their volume of work in the next 12 months. Just over half of firms who do civil legal aid either make a loss or break even. Four in 10 not-for-profit organisations rely heavily on trusts or charitable donations for revenue, with only 30% of revenue coming directly from the provision of civil legal aid services.
Meanwhile, 82% were dissatisfied with the fee system, 61% were unable to build a quality workforce and 59% were dissatisfied with the way the Legal Aid Agency makes decisions.
Most respondents continue to offer civil legal aid services because they feel it is the right thing to do.
One firm said: ‘The legal aid system currently survives because there are people who are committed to the principle despite the challenges. The people who work in the sector at the moment will place their own wellbeing (generally and financially) to one side because of their personal commitment to the clients who need help through the system. The number of lawyers willing to do that are reducing weekly.’
The findings are based on responses from nearly a fifth of the 1,246 civil legal aid providers on the Legal Aid Agency’s database.
Law Society vice president Richard Atkinson said the report confirmed what Chancery Lane already knew – that the sector is on its knees.
Atkinson said: ‘The people who are affected most by this are families facing eviction, victims of abuse seeking the protection they need or a vulnerable person denied access to the care they’re entitled to. Starving the system of resources is penny wise and pound foolish. It would not take a huge sum of money in terms of overall public expenditure to solve this problem, and the savings in other areas from solving people’s problems early would more than offset the cost.
‘We urge the government to use this data for its [review] and to invest in civil legal aid by ensuring there is a future for this vital public service.’