The changes to the benefits system currently being implemented under the Welfare Reform Act 2012 mean that a number of benefits that have historically been used as an administrative marker to “passport” applicants through parts of the criminal and civil legal aid means tests to free (ie, non-contributory) legal aid will progressively be replaced by Universal Credit.
To accommodate the introduction of Universal Credit, which was initially restricted to particular areas and types of claimant, the list of passporting benefits for civil and criminal legal aid was amended to include Universal Credit as an interim measure.
However, Universal Credit has a wider scope than the existing passporting benefits that it replaces. This means that people who would have been in receipt of certain current non-passported benefits will, once they become entitled to Universal Credit, become eligible for passporting to free legal aid.
If Universal Credit continues to be a passporting benefit for legal aid, the increase in legal aid expenditure would be significant. In addition, those in receipt of Universal Credit may be advantaged over those on similar incomes but not in receipt of Universal Credit meaning that legal aid is not focused on those who need it most.
This consultation sets out the government’s policy proposal in response to these welfare reforms. Nothing in this consultation will affect the scope of or eligibility thresholds for legal aid, but instead when claimants are passported and so do not have to undergo a full assessment of their means.