Cuts to the legal aid system have given a Boston charity cause for ‘grave concern’ fearing hundreds could be left to fend for themselves.
The town’s Citizens Advice Burea says Governmnet cuts being implemented at the start of April could force about 600 people to go without access to the specialist advice its provides for social welfare law.
This includes challenging unfair dismissal from work or appealing against a benefit decision.
“The loss of the specialist advice is frightening given that the current shake-up of the benefit system means more and more people need our help,” said chief executive Stuart Hellon.
“The CAB service is gravely concerned there will be a justice gap between those who can afford to pay for legal advice and those who can’t, with the poor unable to challenge refusal of benefits, dismissal at work or sort out unmanageable debt.”
The same concerns have been echoed by John Hyde, a reporter on the specialist legal publication the Law Society Gazette.
“Charities and organisations offering legal advice to the most vulnerable people rely on legal aid, and every single one across the country – not least Boston – will have to either close or cut back dramatically,” he said.
“From April 1 legal aid is being virtually removed in all civil cases, apart from family law where domestic violence has been reported and clinical negligence involving new-born babies.
“The rest is wiped out overnight.
“The government has contingency funds in place but there is a very real danger that vulnerable people will be denied access to justice – either turned away by a cash-strapped charity or left to fend for themselves in court, creating costly delays to the justice system.”
CAB staff stressed legal aid cuts will not bar the public from using its general services. It will get £20,000 more money from Boston Borough Council to help it cope with the added workload from benefit reforms.