Thousands more vulnerable people will be able to access free and early legal advice to resolve issues quickly and avoid court room proceedings due to a record boost in government funding, according to the Ministry of Justice.
The Improving Outcomes Through Legal Support grant works by funding free legal advice and support services for those facing welfare, housing, family or debt issues – supporting them to tackle their problems before they reach court. It also offers free legal representation to people whose cases do require actioning in the courts.
A new investment of £10.4 million now means that more charities than ever – 59 in total – will be able to reach people in more innovative ways, ultimately reaching more of those most in need of legal advice and support.
This will mean a young family teetering on the edge of eviction can get the help they need before ending up in the court room, faced with the prospect of a costly legal bill they can ill afford, and those facing debt problems can benefit from vital early advice to help prevent problems spiralling.
Justice Minister Lord Bellamy said:
“Early intervention makes a huge difference in preventing legal problems from snowballing, saving people time, money and stress.
Those in need should be able to access advice and help as soon as an issue arises which is why we are ensuring even more people can be supported by investing millions in the system.”
Funds were awarded to the Access to Justice Foundation in March and have now been split between a record number of organisations across England and Wales – including law centres and Citizens’ Advice teams offering early intervention and providing legal advice and support, as well as representation in court where appropriate.
Clare Carter, Chief Executive of The Access to Justice Foundation said:
“We’re pleased to be working with the Ministry of Justice on the new Improving Outcomes Through Legal Support grant programme. The Access to Justice Foundation exists to support organisations providing free legal advice to help people most in need address their social welfare issues.
This grant will help organisations across England and Wales to sustain and improve access to early social welfare and family legal advice, specialist casework and where court or tribunal proceedings are needed, provide the support needed to help people navigate the process effectively.”
The grant will be utilised over the next two years and adds to more than £25 million of investment for legal support to date, including a £1 million cost-of-living grant which helped organisations respond to increasing demand for free legal advice.
Investment builds on previous legal support grant funding, including the previous Help Accessing Legal Support grant worth £4.8 million, which supported 52 groups across England and Wales.
The grant will fund specialist legal support in person, by telephone or online, to help deal with problems before they escalate or to support those who need to appear in court.
Law Society of England and Wales President Lubna Shuja said:
“It is good to see the MoJ has acknowledged the importance of early advice, which can resolve problems before they escalate and therefore play a key role in preventing poor health, debt, homelessness and many other issues.
However, the best way to ensure people can access that early advice is through a sustainably funded legal aid system, rather than expecting advice-providers to live hand-to-mouth on precarious government grants.
The Law Society has long called for a more strategic approach to legal support for people who need it. Widening legal aid for early advice in social welfare and family cases, as well as investing in legal aid services to make the system more sustainable, would better provide people with the access to justice they deserve.”