The Legal Aid Means Test Review offers an opportunity for providers of legal aid services to contribute their views and make a difference to how government policy is shaped.
As all practitioners know, applicants for most types of civil and criminal legal aid must pass a means test, in line with government policy that our limited resources are targeted towards those most in need and that people who are able to pay towards their legal costs should do so.
However, as many practitioners will also be aware, it has been several years since the legal aid means tests have been reviewed or updated in any significant way.
In February 2019, as part of our broader Legal Support Action Plan, we announced the launch of the Legal Aid Means Test Review. This review is considering the means tests and includes:
- the income and capital thresholds for civil and criminal legal aid entitlement
- benefits passporting
- non-means tested areas of legal aid
- types of income and capital that are disregarded when assessing financial eligibility
- the contributions system
Alongside these areas, the review is assessing how well the means test protects access to justice, particularly for those who are vulnerable, including victims of domestic abuse.
Central to the Means Test Review is understanding how the current means-testing system is working.
We have therefore been seeking feedback from those who have experience of the means test – either directly, as claimants or legal practitioners, or indirectly, from those supporting or working with legal aid claimants within the justice system or more broadly.
We have also been analysing a wide range of eligibility-related data collected by the Legal Aid Agency.
The timetable for the review
We originally planned to complete the review by summer 2020, but the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has caused a delay and we are now working towards autumn 2021. At this point, we will publish a consultation which sets out our findings and our proposed changes to the means test. Following this, we will bring forward any legislative, digital and operational changes as soon as possible.
Over to you
We want to hear as many views as possible from those with experience of the means tests to inform our policy proposals.
If you would like to get in touch, please contact us at LegalAidMeansTestReview@justice.gov.uk.