Developing a strategy for access to advice and support on Social Welfare Law in England and Wales
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About

Background

For many people, having access to advice and legal support on Social Welfare Law issues is central to ensuring that they receive fair treatment at the hands of the state, when in dispute with an employer or when struggling with debt. This type of advice and support is currently provided by both the not for profit sector (for example, by organisations such as Law Centres or Citizens Advice Bureaux), through the private sector (solicitors) and occasionally via welfare rights units run by Local Authorities.

These services are currently funded by both central and local government as well as by charitable trusts and the private sector. However, changes to the scope of legal aid as a result of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 combined with other reductions in central and local government funding due to the period of austerity are threatening the provision of these services as never before.

These cuts come at a time when advice agencies are seeing an increase in demand due to a combination of welfare reform, other austerity measures and the financial downturn.

The Commission is currently gathering evidence. The Commissioners have issued a general call for evidence and are inviting comments on a series of context papers about each aspect of social welfare law. These papers are available from the Documents page.

Establishment of the Low Commission

The Low Commission on the Future of Advice and Legal Support has been established to develop a strategy for access to advice and support on Social Welfare Law in England and Wales.

For the purposes of its inquiry, the Low Commission considers Social Welfare Law to include: asylum, benefits, community care, debt, education (including special educational needs), employment, housing and immigration.

The Low Commission will be chaired by Lord Colin Low and is made up of eight other Commissioners with expertise in this area. The Low Commission is independent of Government, political parties and advice providers. More information is available on the Commissioners page.

The Secretariat to the Low Commission is based at the offices of Legal Action Group.

Aim

The aim of the Commission is to develop a strategy for the future provision of Social Welfare Law services, which:

  • meets the need for the public, particularly the poor and marginalised, to have access to good quality independent legal advice;
  • is informed by an analysis of the impact of funding changes and by an assessment of what can realistically be delivered and supported in the future;
  • influences the thinking and manifestos of the political parties in the run up to the 2015 election and beyond.

The Commission will take a wide view of this aim, and will look at ways of reducing demand for advice and legal support, as well as investigating new approaches to delivery and funding.