Raise civil legal aid thresholds in line with inflation and incentivise providers, says CILEX

Raise civil legal aid thresholds in line with inflation and incentivise providers, says CILEX

21 February 2024

CILEX (the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) is calling for the earnings and assets thresholds individuals must fall below to qualify for civil legal aid to be raised year on year, in line with the Consumer Price Index.

CILEX also recommends an expansion of civil legal aid to better cover areas such as employment, education and private family law, and for the means test currently used by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) to be “holistically re-assessed to ensure that it is reasonable and proportionate”, especially for those on low or erratic incomes.

Responding to a call for evidence by the Ministry of Justice as part of its review of civil legal aid, CILEX argues that fundamental failings in the system are leaving vulnerable people without access to justice and recommends several ways to improve it.

The earnings and assets thresholds have remained unchanged since 2012, so inflation and wage increases have meant an ever-diminishing number of individuals are eligible. Legal aid deserts are appearing across the country as legal services providers pull out of this underfunded field and desperate people are having to turn to free legal clinics, law schools and charities, which are struggling to meet demand.

CILEX argues that advice deserts should be tackled by “incentivised packages” for new and existing practitioners and that the overall civil legal aid budget should be increased, returning fees on a real-terms case-by-case basis back to their 2012 status.

It recommends the formation of a Civil Legal Aid Review Board, similar to that now in place for criminal legal aid, to “de-politicise the issues around civil legal aid and focus on building the best possible and most efficient system”. This should have the statutory right to set civil legal aid fees and oversee the work of the LAA in relation to civil fees.

Other recommendations included lowering thresholds to access advice on mediation and other alternative dispute resolution to help resolve issues more quickly and for the government to measure the downstream impact of the lack of legal aid on the likes of local authorities, charities, the police, the NHS and MPs.

Of the CILEX practitioners surveyed, 74% believe that it is not easy for clients to find civil legal aid providers and almost all felt the current fee system did not incentivise lawyers to offer services. Virtually all (97%) believe that legal aid fees should be index-linked and 62% said that civil fees, which have not increased since 1996, need to increase by at least 60%.

Practitioners contend that the system is no longer sustainable and prevents access to justice for marginalised individuals in society, with another stating that “legal aid does not have any future unless we can pay suitable wages to retain staff”.

CILEX president Emma Davies commented: “The civil legal aid system is currently facing the real possibility of collapse. Vulnerable people are already struggling to access legal advice and without much needed reform, even more will be left without access to justice.

“We would like to see the government take a serious look and the impact the current system is having on the public and the legal profession and make changes to thresholds, fee levels and the means-tested system as a whole to ensure the availability of quality, specialist legal advice for those in most need.”


For further information, please contact:

Louise Eckersley, Black Letter Communications on 0203 567 1208 or email at [email protected]

Kerry Jack, Black Letter Communications on 0203 567 1208 / 07525 756 599 or email at [email protected]

Notes to editors:

CILEX (The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) is one of the three main professional bodies covering the legal profession in England and Wales. The approximately 17,000-strong membership is made up of CILEX Lawyers, Chartered Legal Executives, paralegals and other legal professionals.

CILEX pioneered the non-university route into law and recently launched the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ), a new approach to on-the-job training that marries legal knowledge with the practical skills, behaviours and commercial awareness needed by lawyers in the 2020s.

The CPQ is a progressive qualification framework that creates a workforce of specialist legal professionals, providing a career ladder from Paralegal through to Advanced Paralegal and ultimately full qualification as a CILEX Lawyer. CILEX Lawyers can become partners in law firms, coroners, judges or advocates in open court.

CILEX members come from more diverse backgrounds than other parts of the legal profession:

  • 77% of its lawyers are women
  • 16% are from ethnic minority backgrounds
    • 8% are Asian or Asian British
    • 5% are Black or Black British
    • 3% are from a mixed ethnic background
  • 85% attended state schools
  • 33% are the first generation in their family to attend university
  • Only 3% of its members have a parent who is a lawyer.

CILEX members are regulated through an independent body, CILEx Regulation. It is the only regulator covering paralegals.