Seminar on Legal Aid reform and debt advice funding

On 10 March 2011 the APPG on Debt and Personal Finance and the APPG on Legal Aid held a joint meeting to discuss the impact of legal aid reform on funding for debt advice. Yvonne Fovargue MP chaired the meeting. Welcoming the MPs, peers, advice and financial sector representatives who attended the meeting, she pointed out that the advice sector is facing “a perfect storm” of rising demand and local and national funding cuts.

Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter said the Government’s proposals to reform legal aid, combined with cuts to local authority funding ran the risk of creating advice deserts, across large parts of the country. In his own constituency he said there were four advice centres, but two have now closed. The proposals were illogical he said, because early intervention saves the public purse more than it costs.

David Hawkes from Advice UK pointed out that 89 per cent of Advice UK’s members were facing funding cuts this year. He opposed the assumption that debt advice is not legal advice contained in the Government’s proposals for legal aid reform – advisors needed an in depth understanding relevant legislation and case law to advise debt clients. And Paula Twigg from the Mary Ward Legal Centre spoke of the human cost of failing to maintain advice services for vulnerable people. Members from all parties commented on the importance of early intervention, saying it was illogical to cut debt advice services which save money in the long run by preventing people’s problems from escalating. The meeting agreed there was a need for parliamentarians from both sides of the House to work together to ensure that there is a sustainable cross government strategy for the provision of debt advice, which includes face to face services for people with complex problems and those who are particularly vulnerable.