Demand vastly exceeds supply of immigration advice in London

Published: 21 June 2021 

New report provides evidence of significant gap in provision of free legal advice in the capital.

  • Research estimates capacity for 10,000 immigration and asylum legal aid matters and 4,000–4,500 free complex casework outside of the scope of legal aid currently, while those needing advice include at least 238,000 people who are undocumented in London.
  • The report identifies infrastructure challenges for the immigration advice sector, including a lack of trained advisors and a recruitment crisis.
  • A Huge Gulf: Demand and Supply for Immigration Legal Advice in London by Jo Wilding, Maureen Mguni and Travis Van Isacker, is available to download
  • A webinar on Wednesday 23 June at 1.30pm will explore the findings and recommendations with the sector; places can be booked here

A Huge Gulf: Demand and Supply for Immigration Legal Advice in London provides evidence about the scale of demand for and supply of immigration legal advice in London. The research was commissioned by Justice Together and Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and was funded by the Greater London Authority.

The report was commissioned in the context of immigration laws that are increasingly hostile and complex to navigate for applicants and require specialist legal advice while availability of legal advice has reduced significantly, due in large part to immigration being taken out of scope of legal aid.

What the research tells us?

The research estimates that there is capacity for just over 10,000 immigration and asylum legal aid matters’ and a maximum of 4,500 free pieces of specialist immigration casework outside of the scope of legal aid per year in London. On the demand side there are various groups that are likely to require advice, including at least 238,000 people who are undocumented in London who would be eligible to make an application to regularise their immigration status (GLA, January 2020).

Infrastructure challenges have emerged for the immigration advice sector since the decline of legal aid, including a recruitment crisis for qualified caseworkers at all levels of provision, including legal aid, across England and Wales, including in London. Organisations struggle to recruit caseworkers with the required level of accreditation and to afford the costs of training.

The gulf between supply and demand means that in practice the system is unfair with far too many people placed at risk through no fault of their own.

Jo Wilding, author of the report said: Our research has shown that the lack of access to advice is having serious consequences. Several of our interviewees were street homeless, sleeping on buses, or in exploitative situations, and some had paid thousands of pounds for advice because they couldn’t access legal aid. People are being forced into irregular status and into poverty by the complexity of the immigration system and the lack of access to advice and casework.”

The report sets out a series of recommendations for the Home Office including reducing the demands of the ten-year route to settlement, which requires multiple applications and drives up demand unnecessarily; and making the EU Settlement Scheme, and the upgrade from Pre-Settled to Settled Status, purely declaratory, to avoid a surge in demand for advice for which there is limited capacity. It also makes proposals for improving the recruitment, training and retention of the immigration advice sector, increasing casework capacity and securing longer term sustainable funding for the sector.

This report provides evidence of the significant issues arising in London due to ongoing changes in the immigration system. Under our Shared Ground Fund, PHF supports civil society organisations to influence systemic change in the UK’s dysfunctional immigration system, in order to reduce demand and harm. In collaboration with nine other foundations, PHF set up the Justice Together initiative with a decade-long vision to ensure that people who use the UK immigration system can access justice fairly and equally.”

Moira Sinclair, Chief Executive, Paul Hamlyn Foundation 

Laura Redman, Acting Head of Justice Together, saidJustice Together welcomes this report, which provides concrete evidence of the barriers Londoners experience every day when seeking access to justice in the immigration system. It will shape how we prioritise funding in the capital to connect lived experience, specialist advice and influencing strategies. We are looking forward to working alongside community groups, advice providers, local authorities and independent funders to create lasting change.”

Deputy Mayor for Communities and Social Justice, Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard said: This research, funded by City Hall, further exposes the huge problems in our immigration system, with a significant lack of access to free legal advice in our city. We know that London benefits greatly from the presence and contribution of migrants and refugees, and alongside the Mayor I am committed to championing the rights of those who have chosen to make the capital their home. The Mayor has contributed more than £1m towards funding free and accessible immigration advice for Londoners, but more needs to be done. It is vital that the Government reinstates immigration legal aid, reduces Home Office fees, and provides adequate funding for free immigration advice services, so that migrant Londoners can continue to thrive in our great city.”

Susan Cueva, trustee of Kanlungan, a charity that works for the welfare of the Filipino and other migrant communities in Britain, commented: Advice and representation is a lifeline. Lack of access to this lifeline can have tragic consequences, not only to vulnerable people but to society as a whole.”

A webinar will take place with the authors of the report on Wednesday 23 June at 1.30pm, offering the opportunity to hear more about the findings and discuss the recommendations in the report. Places are limited; sign up here.