With a £900 million cut in the Scottish Budget next year it is clear various services must be hit. A whole series of bodies including Age Scotland and the Scottish Association for Mental health have flagged up worries facing various sectors in society – particularly disadvantaged groups.
The Law Society of Scotland has joined the debate and warned that cuts in the legal aid budget would threaten the public’s access to justice. An unseemly spat between some lawyers and the chief executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board followed by disagreements between Glasgow lawyers and the Law Society of Scotland must have induced a sense of foreboding amongst the public following the debate. With such bad news all around perhaps the whole system is in meltdown.
But in fact the truth is far from catastrophic at least for one group – older people in Scotland. One little publicised feature of the Scottish Legal Aid system is that it is relatively generous to pensioners. Through the “Advice and Assistance” element of the legal aid system a high percentage of Scottish pensioners can have basic legal work done absolutely free or at a significantly subsidised cost. Older people on a state pension only can be homeowners and have up to £25,000 in the bank and still be entitled to Advice and Assistance. This type of legal aid does not cover court hearings of course but it does cover items of great interest and importance to older people such as the preparation of wills, powers of attorney and advance directives.
David Borrowman of Caesar and Howie “I am pleased that his relative generosity to older people has remained in place meantime at least – with the Legal Aid Board at the moment looking elsewhere for cuts. A key document every older person should prepare is a Power of Attorney appointing a trusted friend or relative to look after their affairs should they become unable to themselves. Powers of Attorney can still be prepared free of charge for many older people because of legal aid and I would hate to see that benefit removed. But logically leaving that benefit in place probably reduces legal aid expenditure in the long run anyway. Apart from anything else the cost of dealing with incapacity would go up because the less powers of attorney that are written the more court applications for guardianship there will be. Of course legal aid remains available for guardianship applications – which are much more expensive.”
David’s advice to older people and to those involved in pensioners groups is simple.
“Pensioners should act now – the three key family care documents, a will, a power of attorney and a living will can all still be done on legal aid. Do them now – who knows what the future is going to bring anyway and who knows what the Legal Aid position will be in the future.“
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