Changes to the legal aid system: what carers need to know

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Guest post: Maia Lask from the Save Legal Aid Campaign tells us how changes to the legal aid system could affect carers’ benefits—and the importance of seeking help before the new tax year on 1st April.

On April Fools’ Day – April 1st – this year, there will be huge changes to the way the legal aid system operates. As of April 1st, legal aid will no longer be available for several areas of law, meaning that in these areas you will no longer be entitled to free legal advice. This means that if you cannot afford to pay for legal advice, and you have a legal problem, March is the time to seek help!

For carers and their families, one area that is particularly concerning is the removal of legal aid for benefits appeals. This means that from April, if you want to challenge a decision on benefit entitlement, you will no longer be able to get legal aid to do so. The government’s own Equality Impact Assessment into the impact of the legal aid cuts found that 58% of people seeking legal aid for benefits advice are disabled, meaning that disabled people and their families will be the group most disproportionately affected by these changes.

What this means for carers’ benefits appeals

This will have a real impact on problems faced by disabled people and carers. For example, there was a case in the Court of Appeal last year about an individual who required a full time care worker, meaning that he needed to live in a two-bed flat to accommodate them. Because he was living in privately rented accommodation, the Housing Benefit rules assessed him, as a single man, as being only entitled to the Housing Benefit entitlement for a one-bedroom flat, leaving him with a huge shortfall in rent.

In the same appeal was the case of a family with three daughters, two of whom were disabled, and therefore unable to share a room. The family therefore needed a four-bed house. As the girls were both young children and expected to share a room, however, the Housing Benefit entitlement for the family was only for a three-bed house, leaving this family with a similar shortfall in rent.

Using legal aid, the decisions on Housing Benefit entitlement in both of these cases were appealed to the Tribunal, and eventually all the way up to the Court of Appeal, which decided that the way that the rules worked was unjustifiably discriminatory to disabled people. It is the ability to appeal precisely this sort of unfair decision using legal aid which will be lost on April 1st.

If you need legal advice—act now

So if you have any concerns about your benefits which may require legal assistance, remember to do it before the 1st April, whilst free advice is still available. Spread the word to your friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else you know who may be in need of legal advice. So act now, seek legal help with your problems before April 1st, and don’t be an April fool.

For more information on the impact of the cuts, and the other areas of law which are being removed from scope, go to the Save Ledal Aid website.

To find your nearest legal aid lawyer visit the Government’s legal adviser finder page.


March 22, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

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