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Survey of immigration and asylum legal aid providers evidences lack of capacity in the sector


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British Red Cross have published a new report on the lack of legal aid assistance available to people in the immigration and asylum system, following a UK wide review of the sector’s capacity to assist with asylum questionnaires and immigration matters. In July 2023 251 firms were contacted in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England and Wales, with those firms that indicated they did have capacity contacted again in August for an update as to waiting times.

Firms were asked whether they had capacity to assist new or existing clients with asylum questionnaires, what their capacity was to take on new clients for any immigration matter and then what their capacity was to take on cases where exceptional case funding was required. On the question of whether the firms would take on cases that require exceptional case funding, only four of the 210 in England and Wales said yes. For assistance with asylum questionnaires, only 7.1% of firms in England and Wales gave a definitive yes.

When looking specifically at areas where the Home Office is using or planning to use large-scale institutional asylum accommodation, they found the following:

  • For the planned site in Lincoln [RAF Scampton], the nearest firm with capacity is 97.8 miles away. The next available appointment is within 30 days.
  • For the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset, which received the first asylum seekers in July 2023, the nearest firm with capacity is 131 miles away. The next available appointment is within 7 days.
  • For the planned site in Essex [RAF Wethersfield], the nearest firm with capacity is 32 miles away. The next available appointment is within 14 days.

The report focusses in particular on asylum questionnaires but as anyone working in the system is aware, the responses reflect the lack of availability of legal aid generally. In the meantime, the government continues to do nothing to rectify the matter, as the review of civil legal aid is delayed by months with no action taken to provide an interim solution.

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Sonia Lenegan

Sonia Lenegan is an experienced immigration, asylum and public law solicitor. She has been practising for over ten years and was previously legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and legal and policy director at Rainbow Migration. Sonia is the Editor of Free Movement.