The impact of Legal Aid cuts on welfare benefits appeals

An avalanche of welfare reforms recently implemented by the Government has resulted in Legal Aid being scrapped for the majority of UK welfare benefits cases.

Up until its withdrawal on April 1, 2013, we had been able to help people who had been refused Disability Allowance (DLA) or Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

Over the years, we have successfully appealed countless cases, working on behalf of clients with a wide range of debilitating illnesses and conditions, including cancer.

The Legal Aid costs in these appeals were sometimes quite substantial, but the amount awarded was always much more than the overall cost of the case. However, due to the recent cuts, the situation has now significantly changed.

Help after the cuts

We were appalled at the withdrawal of Legal Aid for welfare benefits appeals and it made us increasingly determined to continue to represent vulnerable clients.

We responded by setting up a special department that enables us to continue to carry out this type of work transparently against a menu of fixed charges.

Carefully prepared written submissions that set out the relevant law and case details are key to ensuring appeals focus on only the important issues that matter. After all, a well-argued case is always easier to decide.

As a result of our meticulous approach, we have been successful in many cases, even when claimants have attended appeals on their own, but with written submissions we have carefully prepared for them.

Continuing to appeal

Over time, as the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) replaces the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), we predict the number of appeals and demand for professional representation will continue to rise.

In the meantime, claimants should not be detered from appealing because Legal Aid has been withdrawn. For many appeals, costs can be relevatively low and the pay back high, if successful.

The maximum payment under DLA is currently £6,988 per year and minimum payment, £1,092. For ESA, the average payment is £3,728 per year and, in the case of both allowances, the cost of representation can be as little as £300.

A key aim of the new PIP benefit is to deliver savings of more than £1billion a year by 2014-15, rising to £1.5 billion a year by 2016-17. This will result in a sizeable number of rejected applications and high number of appeals, further adding to the pressures already generated by the scaling back of Legal Aid.

It has been widely reported that the Government has withdrawn Legal Aid from many welfare benefits appeals as they are simple matters and legal advice is therefore not required. It is more likely that it wanted to further contribute to its cuts and did not want to incur the added expense of legal assistance for hundreds of thousands of appeals.

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