Publicly-funded legal and advice services have the potential to
regenerate communities and combat social exclusion, according to a
report from the Department of Constitutional Affairs,
writes Craig Kenny.
The report examines the work of the Community Legal Service (CLS),
which four years ago replaced the civil legal aid scheme with a
system of contracts with solicitors and non-profit making
“The CLS is a key element in combating social exclusion and
promoting the regeneration of deprived areas,” the report
However, an independent review of the CLS, published last month,
found: “The case for the CLS tackling social exclusion has
not been made conclusively.”
It called for more evaluation of the effectiveness and
cost-effectiveness of CLS services and for a greater emphasis on
outcomes for those seeking help. The review found serious gaps in
provision across the country, and an 18 per cent reduction in CLS
contracts, mostly due to solicitors dropping out of legal aid work.
The largest gaps had opened in advice services on benefits, debt
The review also proposed the statutory funding by local authorities
of Community Legal Service Partnerships, which guide the CLS
locally. In addition, it suggested piloting a scheme based on
salaried solicitors – with similar contracts to GPs –
and an NHS Direct-style advice line to triage calls.