Legal Aid should stay for tax credits
In late 2010, the Ministry of Justice launched a consultation on reforming Legal Aid in England and Wales. In its response, LITRG has warned that the rights of low-income tax credits claimants could suffer if they can no longer obtain Legal Aid.
The Ministry of Justice’s consultation document on Legal Aid reform was a staggering 224 pages long. Yet within it, we only found one passing reference to tax credits even though the proposals to remove welfare benefits (which includes tax credits) from the scope of Legal Aid will have serious and damaging effects on access to justice for people on low incomes.
These proposals come at a particularly difficult time, due to:
- Funding cuts reducing the availability of benefits advice, upon which more pressure will be heaped as a result of planned changes over the next three years.
- Significant reductions in face-to-face and hard copy publication support from government.
- The drive to reduce error and fraud in the benefits and credits systems which may result in unprecedented levels of prosecutions, disputes and appeals.
- Tax credit disputes are notoriously complex, as evidenced by the backlog of cases within HMRC.
We fear that lone parents and those with disabilities will be particularly affected by the removal of Legal Aid especially when coupled with other changes. The consequence may well be increased poverty and deprivation amongst these groups. We have therefore strongly recommended that welfare benefits remain within the scope of Legal Aid.
If MPs want to be self-interested, they need only think of the number of tax credit complaints they currently receive and multiply that significantly when Legal Aid is removed.
Please use the link to view our full response.
Contact: John Andrews (please use form at http://www.litrg.org.uk/ContactUs)