Vital legal aid bill amendments for discussion
The Legal Aid Bill suffered a series of defeats in the House of Lords on Monday - most importantly on an amendment to ensure victims of domestic violence can still access legal aid - but today sees the the real test for government as crucial amendments on legal aid for welfare benefits advice will be put to the vote.
The bill cuts a huge swathe out of advice provision on so-called 'social welfare law' - specialist legal help with problems around welfare benefits, employment, housing and debt.
At a time of fundamental reform of the welfare system, where thousands of disabled people are wrongly being judged fit for work only to overturn the decision on appeal, government's plans are to remove the only source of funding for legal help with welfare problems. This is mostly delivered by charity advice providers such as Citizens Advice Bureaux, who will struggle to provide this specialist provision without it.
A crucial amendment, put down by a peer from every major party and the cross benches, would retain legal help for the most specialist work, where advisors are helping clients challenge decisions at review or tribunal appeal. It will be debated this afternoon.
The other vital amendment up for debate today is around housing law.
Currently, people at risk of homelessness will be entitled to legal aid, but their advisor will be unable to help with any housing benefit problems. This is nonsensical, as it is often benefit problems which have led to the rent arrears which place someone at risk of eviction. A small but crucial amendment put down by crossbencher and housing expert Lord Best would rectify this anomaly.
In this Justice for All video, Anita, Jill and Samina talk about their experiences using legal aid:
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