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Legal aid cuts will mean more employment tribunals, Citizens Advice warns

15 November 2011

Abolishing legal aid for employment advice will have the perverse effect of increasing the number of cases that end up at an employment tribunal, national charity Citizens Advice warned today.

Far from achieving the government’s objective of saving money and resolving disputes at an early stage, it predicts that the move will have the opposite effect.  It is urging the government to rethink planned legal aid cuts or else find another way to fund the employment-related information, advice and assistance of the kind currently provided by Citizens Advice Bureaux and others to both workers and employers.

In its response to the government’s consultation on promoting economic growth through a strong and efficient labour market*, Citizens Advice welcomes the government’s commitment to enforce fundamental employment protection against employers who try to gain an unfair advantage by exploiting staff.

But it says this pledge is meaningless unless people continue to have access to the specialist legal advice that plays a key role in resolving disputes and potential disputes at an early stage, thereby averting thousands of employment tribunal claims.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“We strongly back the government’s commitment to ensure that rogue employers determined to operate outside the law are not allowed to unfairly undercut business rivals by exploiting their workers.  We agree absolutely that the most vulnerable workers – those most likely to be exploited by unscrupulous bosses – must be effectively protected.

“But abolishing legal aid for employment cases is no way to achieve these very laudable aims.  If the legal aid cuts go ahead, Citizens Advice Bureaux will no longer be able to offer the specialist legal advice and casework that helps resolve more than 3,000 employment problems every year, most involving vulnerable workers in low paid, low skilled work, who have nowhere else to turn for help.

“The government still has time to rethink these plans and prevent legal aid cuts undermining its efforts to promote growth through a strong and efficient labour market, and to create a level playing field that is fair to workers and decent employers alike.”

*The CAB service’s response to the BIS discussion paper Flexible, effective, fair: promoting economic growth through a strong and efficient labour market:

  • www.citizensadvice.org.uk/promoting_economic_growth_through_a_strong_and_efficient_labour_market

In his 2011 Annual Report, issued in February, Lord Justice Carnwath, Senior President of Tribunals, noted  that without the legal aid-funded specialist advice work of Citizens Advice Bureaux and others, "not only will many be left in ignorance of their rights, or without the ability to pursue them, but the load of tribunals may increase rather than decrease, both because cases will come to the tribunal which could (with proper advice) have been avoided or settled, and because lack of preparation may add to the length of hearings".

Notes to editors:

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at adviceguide.org.uk
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
  5. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.3 million clients on 5.4 million problems from October 2013 to September 2014. For full 2013/2014  service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.