Families, individuals and some of the most vulnerable people across the Tees Valley desperate for legal aid will find getting help more difficult than ever before following new contracts for solicitors.
And now Stockton North Labour MP Alex Cunningham has now demanded that the Minister in charge of Legal Aid sorts the mess out.
The new contracts for legal aid services issued by the Legal Services Commission have effectively sacked several companies in Stockton North – reducing those with contracts from seven to four and failing to offer any company in Billingham work under the new arrangements due to come into place in mid October.
Alex said: “I am extremely concerned about the ramifications for my constituents following the allocation of these contracts. I am particularly concerned that there has been a reduction in the number of solicitors firms in Stockton from seven to five and one of those doesn’t even have an office in the area. I also understand that no firm in Billingham has been allocated a contract to serve local people. This means they have travel to the next town for help,” he said.
“Another worrying factor is the loss of expertise in the system as some small firms which specialise in children and family law have been unsuccessful in the contract bidding round.”
The ramifications could also be wide ranging for the firms themselves. Those allocated contracts may face hiring new staff whilst others will face making people redundant – one will even have to set up a new office in Stockton.
There is an appeals system that is in place for unsuccessful firms but it is not clear how that can work if the appeals are successful.
“As I understand it, there is a finite amount of work available so if additional contracts are awarded, that will result in additional capacity in the system assuming the original contracts have to stand. I’m also led to understand that the Commission is in fact allocating additional contracts to those who have already “won” their appeals” said Alex.
“The whole system seems to be riddled with problems and I’ve written both to the Chair of the Commission and the Minister responsible for legal aid seeking answers on exactly what is happening and what is going to be done to ensure my constituents are properly served.”