New Clause 4 — Status of Director and Lord Chancellor

Part of Devolved Administrations (Armed Forces Covenant Reports) – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 2nd November 2011.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington 2:30 pm, 2nd November 2011

The hon. Lady makes a point that is worth considering. Clearly, certain organisations are financial beneficiaries of some of the funding, but I do not want to throw out all the concerns that have been raised because, equally, there are legitimate concerns that the Government need to monitor very carefully.

I turn to new clause 17. I had hoped that during the debate on Monday we would reach the group of amendments on social welfare in which my amendment 149 on complex welfare benefits was listed. Also in the group was amendment 131, which sought to ensure that advice on housing repossessions was available sooner. I regret that we did not reach that group, as, I am sure, does my hon. Friend Stephen Lloyd, who is chairman of the all-party group on Citizens Advice. However, new clause 17 touches on many aspects of what was included in amendment 149. I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Makerfield has put the matter up for debate today because it provides an opportunity to discuss some of the points that would have been raised on amendment 149. Her definition in trying to ensure that legal aid is extended to complex cases is

“that the individual has complex, interconnected needs” and that

“not all of those…legal services would otherwise be available to the individual”.

It is reasonable to speculate that many, or most, individuals with complex and interconnected needs will also have welfare benefit issues that will often also be complex. Under the Government’s proposals, welfare benefit cases, complex or otherwise, are excluded from the scope of legal aid.

I acknowledge that the scope of the hon. Lady’s new clause is slightly different from what was proposed in amendment 149. However, if it had been restricted to individuals with complex and interconnected needs who require legal help with complex welfare benefit issues, I suspect that we would have been discussing exactly the same area of legal aid, because virtually every individual who has a benefit advice problem involving issues of legal complexity, significant evidential hurdles or daunting adjudication processes will have complex and interconnected needs. According to Citizens Advice, that more targeted approach would help to achieve a compromise position whereby more complex cases can be covered by the legal help system. When we asked Citizens Advice what it would identify as a single priority as regards what the Government should change, that is what it proposed.

Citizens Advice has calculated the cost impact of its proposal. It says that the current welfare benefits advice spend is £25 million on just under 140,000 cases, and that restricting it to complex welfare benefit cases covering only reviews and appeals, which applies to two thirds of the current welfare benefit cases, would cost £16.5 million and help around 100,000 people. The cost could fall further if, as the Government and all hon. Members intend in practice, decision making first time round is improved and becomes much more effective. The CAB calculation is that if we were to improve first-time decision making by 30%, the costs of that provision could fall to £12 million.