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Legal aid threshold ‘too low’ for cost of living – CLM
Rose Wall of CLM

07 Feb 2023 / justice Print

Legal-aid threshold ‘too low’ for cost of living

A group of 19 social-justice organisations working in the areas of homelessness, housing, disability, health, unemployment, family, penal reform, older people and children in care, have called for substantial reform of the 43-year-old civil legal-aid scheme. 

In a submission to the ongoing review, the organisations, led by Community Law & Mediation, seek urgent changes to the means test to ensure people on low incomes can access vital legal supports to protect their rights – and for the expansion of the scheme to cover all areas of law, such as employment, equality, housing, environmental matters, social welfare, and children’s rights.

Key recommendations

Their recommendations include:

  • Changes to the qualifying eligibility thresholds and allowances against income to reflect cost-of-living increases,
  • Expansion of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme to other areas,
  • Restructuring in line with the community-law-centre model to include public information and education services – creating an awareness of rights and the law; and a policy and law-reform function.

Community Law & Mediation Chief Executive Rose Wall said that the review should address the barriers that prevent people on low incomes, marginalised groups and others from accessing justice.

“All people should be able to access basic legal information and advice, regardless of their income and background. Without access to justice, people are unable to have their voice heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination, or hold decision-makers accountable,” she said.

Overly strict means test

The means test to access legal aid is overly strict and severely out of touch with the reality of the cost of living, Wall added.

“We frequently meet people at our free-legal-advice clinics who cannot afford a solicitor, but who also do not meet the current thresholds for legal aid. Other barriers to seeking legal help include lack of awareness of legal rights, fear of ‘speaking out’, and long waiting times to access the services of the Legal Aid Board,” she said.

Claire McSweeney, manager of the Ballymun Community Law Centre, said that demand for its legal services in Ballymun had almost doubled in recent years.

“People in the community are facing a range of legal issues in areas like housing, social welfare, employment, and equality,” she said. “We welcome this review and hope to see the Civil Legal Aid Scheme better resourced, expanded, and promoted to raise awareness of it.”

The lobbying groups also include Age Action, the Disability Federation of Ireland, EPIC, Inclusion Ireland, Irish Cancer Society, Irish Penal Reform Trust, Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Mental Health Reform, Northside Partnership, Novas, One Family, Robert Emmet CDP, Society of St Vincent de Paul, Threshold and Treoir.

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