TUC 2012: In April 2013 the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 - Laspo - will come into effect.
Laspo will remove legal aid from most couples trying to resolve disputes over children or money, from any immigration cases except asylum, from tenants trying to get compensation from their landlords for failing to repair a home and for legal advice on debt and welfare benefit.
The last cut is the most insidious. The welfare benefit system is notoriously complex - Child Poverty Action Group's publication Social Security Legislation runs to four volumes plus a supplement - and, with the introduction of universal credit, is about to become even more so.
At the moment someone seeking advice on welfare benefits can receive legal advice in advance, but has to attend a tribunal and make representations alone.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is supposed to get the decision as to how much benefit someone is entitled to right first time. It has plenty of lawyers and specialist advisers working for it.
Legal advice and appeals to tribunals should be a safety net against the possibility of the DWP wrongly assessing a benefit claim.
Yet - in the case of employment and support allowance (ESA) - as many as 39 per cent of appeals brought by claimants against a DWP decision succeed.
Over half of those appeals had been against the DWP's decision to award no ESA at all - finding that the claimant was fit for work - and those decisions were found to be wrong.
As we all know from campaigns against Atos assessments of disabled people, the number of wrong decisions is going to increase.
Eighteen months ago a commission of inquiry into legal aid was organised jointly by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and Young Legal Aid Lawyers.
The commission's membership included Diana Holland, assistant general secretary of trade union Unite.
It heard compelling testimony from individuals who had benefited from legal aid, as reproduced here.
The coalition government suffered more parliamentary defeats over Laspo than over any other Bill, including the Health and Social Care Act and the Welfare Reform Act.
From April thousands of people will be deprived of advice about their rights. The Labour Party has not yet committed itself to restore legal aid. Trade unionists should insist that it does so.
Abbi had run up large debts when she was a student. She found a part-time, low-paid job, but interest was building up on her debts.
The Citizens Advice Bureau referred her to a legal aid solicitor who advised her to apply for a debt relief order, freezing her debts for a year.
She says: "I needed a solicitor or an adviser to write to the debt companies for me. Without their letters I don't think they would have agreed to freeze my debts."
She worries that others in her situation would end up turning to crooked money lenders.
Mrs Whitehouse and her husband had lived in the same rented flat since 1962. Their landlord wanted to sell the flat for a profit and offered to move them to a flat around a mile away.
They had legal aid to fight the case in court. The first judge said that they should move. Their lawyers advised them to appeal to the Court of Appeal.
Before the Court of Appeal heard the case, Mr Whitehouse sadly died. The Court of Appeal judges unanimously decided that the landlord's case was wrong and were quite critical of the first judge.
Mrs Whitehouse was allowed to stay in her home.
She says: "If we had not received legal aid we would have had no way of funding this case. We would have had to move out to the flat that our landlord was offering, leaving our home of 50 years and all our friends, without knowing that our landlord had no right to do this.
"I did not want to have to take public funding for this case, but there was not any alternative.
"Luckily because we won the case my landlord was required to pay all our legal costs so all of the money we had received went back to the government. When my solicitor told me that I was almost as happy about it as I was about winning the case."
Steven had legal aid for a solicitor to negotiate contact with his children during his divorce.
He says: "Because of the work undertaken by my solicitors I can now move on with my life and work on building a better future for myself and my children."
From April 2013 he would have had to do the negotiations himself, which is not easy when couples have broken up.
Liz Davies is a legal aid barrister specialising in housing law and is chairwoman of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. She writes this column in a personal capacity. For more information, see www.haldane.org.
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