Fixed fee attack

PROPOSED REFORMS to legal aid came under fire from all sides of the Commons in a Westminister Hall debate yesterday.

According to Citizens Advice, the changes will deny thousands of vulnerable people access to help. Its main complaint is a new system of paying advice agencies a fixed amount for each case they handle. That could mean solicitors cherry-picking the easiest cases and leaving agencies to pick up the more complex ones, such as housing possession cases. During the debate Dominic Grieve (Con) attacked the Department for Constitutional Affairs as being ‘one of the very big losers’ in the spending round while Sally Keeble (Lab) raised housing as a particular area for concern and several Labour backbenchers and Simon Hughes (Lib Dem) raised the issue of high costs in London.

The central issue was raised by Karen Buck (Lab):

‘Our core point—certainly for those on the Labour Benches—is that the 40 per cent. of cases that do not generate more income will be disproportionately concentrated in areas where providers deal with the most vulnerable people and the most complex cases. Sadly, we have not yet heard any convincing evidence to lead us to believe otherwise.’