Underspend in legal aid revealed

Date: 8th July 2014 Categories:

New figures reveal that the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) is underspending on its budget for legal aid. LAG argues that this gives the government the opportunity to restore services to assist the public with everyday civil legal problems.


The figures published last month in the LAA’s annual report and accompanying statistical information show that the number of initial help and advice cases, know as legal help cases, was down by 50% for the year April 2013 to March 2014. In social welfare law the number of legal help cases was down by a staggering 80%. This can be mainly attributable to the cuts in scope introduced by the LASPO Act in April last year. Employment, benefits and debt cases were cut by 100% and there were also big cuts  to legal aid for housing and immigration cases.


Under the current government, as LAG revealed in its research Legal aid secret service, the figures for legal aid for civil law cases has been reducing for the last four years. The LASPO Act cuts have greatly increased this downward trend.


Numbers of legal aid providers have dropped considerably over the last year and we now have half the number of civil firms in the system than we did in 2008. The decline in not for profit (NfP) suppliers has been even more dramatic with the numbers of contracts for legal aid services held by them falling from 870 in 2012/13 to 95 in 2013/14.


The lack of legal aid firms and NfP services in local communities, LAG believes, has led to a decrease in the take-up of the legal aid services which are still available. LAG has calculated that a total of £117m less has been spent on legal aid services than the LAA budgeted for. The bulk of this underspend has been in civil legal aid-







Business plan 2013/14[1]




Accounts 2013/14[2]










The LAA though managed to overspend on its administrative budget,  spending £106.2m, £20m more than it budgeted for.


The underspend in the LAA budget on services to the public is all the more surprising given the evidence of the need for civil law advice. Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, told the Justice Select Committee today that nine out of ten bureau have no-where to refer clients to who need specialist legal advice.  


LAG believes less than £100m of the underspend revealed today would restore the cuts to social welfare law. We would also argue that the government needs to restore some advice on the family law cases which were cut from legal aid. This would would need to be targeted at the litigants in person who are now jamming the family courts system and we would suggest this could be provided via court help desks staffed by qualified lawyers.


The Ministry of Justice is in a rare position of having underspent its budget. We hope the Secretary of State for Justice uses this opportunity to redress some of the worse impacts of the LASPO Act, rather than allowing the cash to be snatched back by the Treasury.



[1] LAA Business Plan p23 follow link-




[2] LAA Annual Report and Accounts 2013-14 p83

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