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Tipping the Scales: Access to justice in the asylum system

It is essential that people seeking asylum are able to access good quality legal assistance. Applying for refugee status is very complex and most people arrive in the UK with little or no experience of going through the legal system of their own country, let alone one they are new to and in a language they might not understand.

However, our research shows that changes to the legal aid system have left many people seeking asylum completely unable to access the legal support they need to make their case for protection from violence or persecution. This is denying justice to some of the most vulnerable people in our country.

Read our report

  • Since 2005 56% of legal aid providers were lost
  • The proportion of not-for-profit providers fell by 64% since 2005,
  • There are 26 local authorities with more than 100 section 95 supported people and no local provision

Working with the No Accommodation Network we surveyed 92 organisations about their experiences of supporting people seeking asylum to access justice. The results were stark. 87% of respondents said that it was more difficult to refer people to legal aid solicitors since new government restrictions were introduced in 2012 and some said they can only refer people to solicitors if they have collected legal evidence themselves.

“By the time I found my solicitor, I didn’t have much time
left to understand everything and prepare for the interview”
– Naveed

A fair and effective asylum system depends on those fleeing conflict and persecution having access to good quality legal advice and information. Our work shows that drastic cuts in legal aid are tipping the scales of justice and putting lives at risk.

Act now to call for change. Email your MP and ask them to #StandUpForAsylum.

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The interactive graphs below show some of the key findings in our report.

The chart below shows the percentage change in the number of providers in 2018 compared to 2005. 56% of the total number of providers have been lost during this period. The decline in the number of not for profit providers is even more alarming, with a 64% loss in the number of providers from 2005 to 2018.

The map below shows the number of providers at Local Authority level in England and Wales who completed Immigration & Asylum legal aid work in 2017/18. It is clear that vast areas of England and Wales have no active provision, with the highest number of providers located in Birmingham, London and Yorkshire.

A key driver in demand for Legal Aid for asylum cases is the pattern of Home Office dispersal, where people seeking asylum are accommodated in dispersal areas across the UK. The graph below shows the dispersal areas in England and Wales and the difference between the number of people seeking asylum and the number of completed matter starts in each area.

The graph below shows the dispersal areas that have more people seeking asylum than completed matter starts in 2017/18. The data suggests that these areas are in high demand for legal aid services and are currently operating with a matter start deficit. The number next to each are shows the number of additional people seeking asylum compared to matter starts. For example, we can see at the top that Wigan had 978 more people seeking asylum than matter starts completed. The graph shows all areas with a potential deficit of more than 100.

The map below shows the number of people seeking asylum living in dispersal areas in the UK where there is currently no legal aid provision at all. This means that they are effectively living in ‘advice deserts’, requiring them to travel often long distances to obtain Legal Aid advice.

The graph below shows the number of people seeking asylum living in dispersal areas that currently have no legal aid provision at all.