Legal aid levy a regressive tax

On 2 July the Ministry of Justice finished their consultation on the proposed Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme (SLAS). Details of the Government’s programme for legal aid reform can be found here.

The idea behind the scheme is that 25% of any damages awarded to legally aided litigants should be paid back into the legal aid fund. This is likely to affect, for example, individuals who have been unlawfully detained by the State, victims of clinical negligence and tenants who have been unlawfully evicted by their Landlords.

The idea that individuals who benefit from legal aid should repay their legal costs if they are awarded compensation is neither new or controversial. However the twist behind the new levy is that individuals may have to pay back substantially more than the costs of their case meaning that legally aided clients – often among the most disadvantaged in society – are effectively subsidising the legal aid system.

YLAL members have been involved in responding to the SLAS consultation on behalf of the Housing Law Practitioners Association and Garden Court Chambers. Garden Court labelled the levy “regressive” stating that the “tax burden for funding the legal aid system, as with any other part of the welfare state, should fall squarely on the shoulders of those who are able to afford it”. Read their full response here.

We fully endorse the responses of both organisations.