The Legal Services Commission (LSC), like all other public bodies, must work within a fixed budget. However, the LSC is responsive to increased demand for services at local level within that budget. Last year, the LSC increased the number of cases funded of initial civil advice and assistance in areas like debt and housing to over one million in response to the economic downturn—a record amount. The LSC also allocated cases in areas where clients had previously found services hard to access. The LSC will continue to maintain this flexible approach where there is evidence of both need and demand for additional services.
Should the commission find, that there is insufficient access to advice in a particular area, either following the tender or during the life of the contract, they will consider further measures within their budget constraints. This will range from offering increased matter starts to existing contracted providers, to undertaking further interim bid rounds to encourage the development of additional services.
The Government are committed to ensuring that the most vulnerable people in society have access to quality, publicly-funded legal advice for family and social welfare issues. This is why we increased expenditure on Legal Help, which covers initial advice and assistance, from £176 million in 2008-09 to £200 million for 2009-10. We have also increased the number of acts of assistance provided from 595,000 in 2004-05 to over a million last year. During 2010-11, funding for advice and assistance will be maintained to ensure that people can continue to access the help they need.
The new civil contracts will begin on 14 October 2010. One of the main changes made to advice provision under the new contract will be the requirement to provide services in housing, debt and welfare benefits holistically, under one contract. This will provide a more integrated service and meet clients' needs more effectively. Practitioners who do not currently provide all three services have the option of forming consortia to bid for this work.
The tender process for social welfare law and family services opened on 26 February. Practitioners wishing to bid for new contracts can access procurement plans, detailing numbers of case starts available in specified geographical (procurement) areas, on the LSC website.
If access problems arise during the life of the new contract, the LSC will take appropriate action—within budget—to encourage additional services.