Legal aid warning

Ministers are being urged not to restrict legal aid for disabled people wanting to challenge benefit decisions.

A coalition of charities including Scope and Mind argues that limiting access to "vital" help in England and Wales could harm vulnerable people.

But the government insists that the £2bn legal aid bill is unaffordable and help has to be targeted at the most serious cases and those most needing support.

Ministers are looking to cut £350m from the civil legal aid budget by 2014-15.

The 23 organisations, which also include Mencap, the RNIB and Leonard Cheshire, want MPs to back an amendment to the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill reversing the decision when the proposed legislation is debated.

The disability rights groups say the changes mean up to 80,000 people will no longer be able to get access to publicly funded legal advice to help them challenge benefit decisions.

Campaigners say those affected will not be able to find legal help elsewhere and it could have a "serious impact" on their finances and peace of mind - making it harder for them to return to work in the future.

"Legal advice is vital for disabled people if they fall foul of poor decision making, red tape or adminisrative error," Scope's chief executive Richard Hawkes said.

"For welfare reform to work, disabled people have to get support to appeal decisions relating to their benefits especially within a system where errors are commonplace.

"Cutting legal aid in this area will make it harder for disabled people to get the right support and ultimately could drive more people further away from work."



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Last Updated : 31 October 2011. Page Author: Laura Bimpson.