ECF (Exceptional Funding) Resources

LawWorks has been working with the Public Law Project (PLP) extending the reach of their resources to help to clinics engage with the legal aid exceptional funding scheme (ECF) which can be used to access legal aid where individuals experience a breach of their key rights. Through their exceptional funding project, PLP have obtained a unique insight into the operation of ECF.

Whilst legal aid remains out of scope for the majority of social welfare and family law issues (eg benefits, debt, employment, immigration and private family law cases), the exceptional funding (ECF) scheme introduced by LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) was intended to provide a human rights "safety net" to ensure that could still be accessed for problems where where human rights, equalities or EU protections are engaged.  However, in the early years the scheme had low take up, a high refusal rate, and was widely criticised for its complexity, application procedure and the narrowness of its criteria (see p.13 of our briefing/memo to the Justice Select Commitee).

The Public Law Project (PLP) brought two succesful legal challenges to the operation of the scheme. As a result, some changes have been made including new guidance, and following the LASPO Review and Legal Support Action Plan, the Ministry of Justice have undertaken to make further improvements to the way the scheme works.  

Nevertheless, it remains an extremely complicated application process; legal aid lawyers and contract holders are not remunerated to undertake the application work and often find the funding difficult to secure. Whilst it is possible for members of the public to apply for ECF without help from a solicitor or adviser, pro bono clinics, advice agencies, and other third sector organisations can play an important role in helping people to access the scheme.


Last year LawWorks held a roundtable with PLP, looking at their experience of supporting the development of dedicated ECF clinics, especially following the successful launch of the University of Exeter ECF clinic set up to run alongside their immigration clinic and taking referrals where individuals need help applying for legal aid. At the roundtable PLP shared two key research reports.


LawWorks has been developing a training package with PLP, and in September held a well-attended half-day training session in Ipswich with Suffolk Law Centre and other local agencies in the East of England region. In the future we hope to roll out this training to other regions. You can access the training materials below.


PLP have developed an ECF Clinics toolkit which was launched during Pro Bono week 2019 at Freshfields. James Sandbach, Director of Policy spoke at the launch. 


Other resources that PLP offer on ECF issues include:-

We are grateful to the PLP for sharing their materials with the clinics network.  


Date of publication

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Date last reviewed

Thursday, November 7, 2019