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Legal Aid Advice Deserts

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 16 March 2021

The Legal Aid Agency is currently acting to fill any gaps in the market, and it frequently renews capacity, to ensure adequate provision. We are currently considering civil legal aid market sustainability, and I have provided £5.4 million in emergency funding for not-for-profit legal advice providers during covid-19.

Bradford’s community advice centres that provide legal support have been devastated by the Government’s funding cuts and preference for bigger providers. As a result, some of our excellent, hard-working, local grassroot community advice centres have been run into the ground, creating legal aid and advice deserts in some of our most vulnerable communities that need the greatest support. Will the Justice Secretary commit to a “local first” policy, to ensure that community advice centres get the funding they need to help some of society’s most vulnerable people, who cannot afford help elsewhere? Will he commit to ensuring an increase in the number of grassroot community advice centres in Bradford?

The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the importance of community provision. Indeed, among those sectors that were helped by the £5.4 million funding during covid was the Law Centres Network, which plays an invaluable role. He will be glad to know that the Legal Aid Agency has launched a procurement process to identify new providers in the areas of housing and debt, where there is currently little or no provision, to help citizens get that advice. It will shortly announce a positive outcome to that process.