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New report calls for vital immigration legal advice support

Brighton academics have teamed with major national organisations for a report highlighting a growing crisis around vital immigration legal advice.

Published on 21 June, the report – A Huge Gulf: Demand and Supply for Immigration Legal Advice in London – was commissioned by the Justice Together Initiative and Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and was funded by the Greater London Authority.

The report draws on research by Dr Jo Wilding revealing the extent of legal aid ‘deserts’ across the UK, in collaboration with PhD researcher Maureen Mguni plus Dr Travis Van Isacker, who wrote his PhD at Brighton about migrant evictions in Calais, and is now an independent consultant.

The new report estimates that there are at least 238,000 people in London, including tens of thousands of children, who are undocumented but eligible to apply to regularise their immigration status. Yet the city only has a capacity for a maximum of 4,500 pieces of immigration casework per year, outside the scope of legal aid.

The lack of access to legal advice has serious consequences. In one case, a woman had to return to a violent husband because she couldn’t find a legal aid solicitor to do the application for her, despite immigration rules designed to protect women in her situation. Other cases highlighted people forced to sleep on the street or remain in exploitative situations. Others had been left to pay thousands of pounds for advice because of cuts in access to legal aid.

In response to the wider crisis in legal advice provision, Brighton Business School Senior Lecturer Brontie Ansell helped set up a pro-bono legal advice clinic at the university in 2019, providing legal advice for members of the public on issues such as business, housing, employment and more. Accreditation rules put in place by the current government, however, prevent it offering immigration advice.

photo of Dr Jo WildingDr Wilding, ESRC Post Doctoral Research Fellow in the School of Applied Social Science, said: “Our research reveals the huge gap between the need for immigration advice and people’s access to it… That means people who are in the UK lawfully, or are entitled to a lawful immigration status, don’t know what their rights are and can’t access them. People are forced into irregular status and poverty by the complexity of the immigration system and the lack of access to advice and casework. That includes children born in the UK.”

Speaking about the situation outside London, Dr Wilding said: “The south coast is an advice desert with very very little provision. There’s only one small legal aid provider for the whole of Sussex and Surrey. There are a lot of issues flagged in the London report that apply to the south coast as well. The Home Office is widening ‘dispersal’ of asylum seekers, while Kent is unable to take in any more unaccompanied children and asking other local authorities to look after them. So many parts of the UK are likely to see an increase in need, without any increase in provision.”

There will be a webinar on Wednesday 23 June from 1.30-3pm to discuss the report findings and recommendations in more detail.

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