How can we increase the supply of quality, free immigration advice to meet demand?
In recent years, voluntary organisations providing free immigration advice have been squeezed between LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) and the government’s hostile environment policy. LASPO introduced drastic cuts to legal aid resulting in many individuals no longer able to access justice and the closure of many providers. Meanwhile a raft of often discriminatory measures were introduced under the hostile environment policy: the Windrush ‘scandal’ exposed the terrible consequences of one such measure for people’s lives and highlighted the need for quality advice.
Faced with the paradox of increasing need for immigration advice and decreasing funding and capacity to meet it, voluntary organisations sought to ‘do more with less’. Wanting to understand how their funding could help, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Trust for London commissioned us to answer the question: ‘how can we increase the supply of quality, free at point-of-access immigration advice at a time when supply does not match the need?’
This research is about the ways in which the voluntary sector has adapted to meet need when government policies and practices have failed. Over two years we conducted 110 interviews, received various written submissions, held six learning sets and conducted an extensive literature review. Through this work we found nine methods which in some way increase the capacity of the not-for-profit sector to meet immigration advice needs, which we grouped into three categories:
- Category one contains methods aimed primarily at creating new capacity in the system of immigration advice provision, including pro bono work by commercial law firms, capacity building and teams of people supporting specialist advisors.
- Category two includes methods aimed primarily at increasing the efficiency of how existing specialist immigration advice is provided. This includes in-house investment; remote advice and casework; outreach and referral partnerships, and other forms of joint working.
- Category three includes methods aimed primarily at changing the environment specialist advisors are working in; the methods we found here were the provision of online information and strategic work, including strategic litigation and policy-influencing.
Our report, Methods of Increasing the Capacity of Immigration Advice Provision, includes a detailed description of each method, with examples of how it is used, the clients and types of cases it seems appropriate for, how it produces efficiencies and the limitations people have found. We hope this level of detail will help replicators and funders understand what is needed to set up and run each method as well as the pitfalls to avoid.
This research was completed before COVID-19 struck, but its findings remain relevant as need for advice increases and the ability to deliver it becomes more challenging. Providers are already adapting some of the methods described in response to social distancing rules and there is scope for other methods to be taken online. Above all, the people who took part in this research are skilled at adapting to challenging circumstances. Given the creativity and resilience our research found, we know they will again. We hope our research helps them do so.