The House of Lords has voted in favour of an amendment to the legal aid bill which would mean that free help would still be available for benefits appeals. However, the amendment is likely to be overturned when the bill returns to the commons.

Peers voted last night to continue to allow legal aid not just for first tier tribunals but also for upper tier tribunals as well. Many advice agencies are dependent on legal aid to provide funding for welfare benefits specialists who give free advice to claimants.

However, the lesson of the welfare reform bill is that the government is likely to overturn the amendments in the commons and declare the bill to be a financial one. This will prevent peers from voting for the same amendments when the bill ping-pongs back to the lords. This tactic resulted in the complete failure of the lords to get any of their amendments accepted for the welfare reform bill.

Peers have warned that up to 800 advice centres may be forced to close if the legal aid bill goes through. But the government claims that it will put funding in place to ensure the long-term survival of the advice sector without the need for legal aid funding.

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