Charities warn closure will affect those wishing to dispute benefit cuts
Legal advice service to be scrapped following government cutbacks
The Legal Services Commission has scrapped a major service providing specialist welfare advice weeks after 90,000 people were told their benefits would be cut.
The Specialist Support Service was launched in 2000 to help law centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux access legal advice from organisations with specialist expertise, and is due to be scrapped on 6 July.
Housing charity Shelter and the Child Poverty Action Group had contracts to deliver the service for housing and welfare advice respectively, but the Legal Services Commission, which administers the funding, said the £1.1 million a year service was no longer viable due to £350 million of cuts to the legal aid bill due by 2014/15.
LSC figures show that in some cases, the organisations running the service fulfilled more than twice their contracted hours.
Charities warn this will lead to a lack of expert legal advice for individuals who want to launch judicial reviews against decisions about benefit payments. The closure came as 90,000 people received letters informing them their housing benefit is to be capped.
Eddie Graham, advice and rights manager at CPAG, said: ‘Scrapping the SSS is a false economy because these are often difficult cases which are progressed with specialist support.
‘This could have a real impact on people’s income and their ability to keep a roof over their heads and provide for their children.’
Jane Alltimes, senior policy officer at Mencap, said: ‘It’s a huge worry that people can’t get legal advice if they’re needing to challenge certain decisions.’
A statement from the LSC said: ‘The LSC must live within its means and current budget pressures require consideration of the merits of the SSS against current funding priorities.’