A report commissioned by The Law Society has found that many families living below the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) are being excluded from legal aid. The MIS is a programme which reports on the minimum income necessary to maintain an acceptable standard of living. The research is carried out with members of the public and is informed by expert knowledge in areas such as nutritional standards.

The Law Society report was compiled by David Hirsch, Professor of Social Policy and Director for the Centre of Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University. Hirsch has led the Minimum Income Standard research programme at Loughborough University since 2008. His report, ‘Priced out of Justice?’, examined eligibility for legal aid and the means testing which determines the contributions that those on low incomes are required to make to legal costs.

The report states that “many people living substantially below [the Minimum Income Standard] are excluded from legal aid entirely, or are awarded it but required to make contributions that bring their income even further below what they require to meet their needs”. The study found that even those who have the maximum amount of disposable income to qualify for legal aid do not reach a minimum standard of living even before any legal costs. “Typically, they have disposable incomes 10% to 30% too low to afford a minimum budget.”

The Ministry of Justice has an annual budget of £1.6bn for legal aid which is down from £2.1bn in 2010. The last time that the means test was increased in line with inflation was also in 2010. The Law Society says that the situation is getting worse for low-income families with the unchanged means test threshold combined with rising living costs and cuts to legal aid. It hopes that the government will adjust the means test threshold in line with real-terms 2010 levels in light of this report.

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