The independent organisation offering free legal advice to those who cannot afford it, has said the demand for its services last year outstripped its resources.

FLAC said there were more than 13,000 calls to its telephone information line, but many more callers could not get through.

The organisation said there is a crisis around people’s ability to access justice, particularly in relation to family law and employment matters.

FLAC Chief Executive Eilis Barry said there is an ongoing crisis of unmet legal need.

FLAC received 13,147 calls to its information line last year, the highest number since 2015.

But, Ms Barry said these figures were just the tip of the iceberg as FLAC cannot answer every call. She said they were concerned that significantly more people were unable to get through, and said there had to be a better way to provide services enabling access to justice.

Almost a third of the queries related to family law matters.

Ms Barry said people were already stressed by the time they got through, and many were narrowly over the legal aid means test, currently set at an annual income of €18,000.

In one case, she said, a caller was over the threshold by €500 and was already facing legal costs of more than €20,000 in a family law matter.

The second highest number of queries related to employment law. Ms Barry said FLAC had nowhere to refer these callers as there was no legal aid for employment and discrimination claims before the Workplace Relations Commission.

She said queries relating to housing matters were steadily increasing and the organisation was also concerned about lay litigants trying to navigate the courts system without lawyers.

Even those who met the criteria for legal aid faced months of delay waiting to be approved, she added.

Ms Barry said there needed to be a reimagining of how access to justice was delivered and added that the organisation was relieved the Government had established a long overdue review of the system.

FLAC's independent law centre dealt with over 88 case files last year but the organisation said it cannot fulfil the demand for its assistance.

It focuses on the most vulnerable groups in society such as Travellers and the Roma community and on taking cases that have widespread implications, in areas such as housing, social welfare and discrimination.

Solicitor Sinead Lucey said marginalised communities living in poverty and disadvantage had ongoing specific and acute legal needs.

She said access to tribunals such as the WRC which deals with discrimination cases, was impossible without access to legal advice and discrimination.

She said the harsh reality was that FLAC could only deal with a very limited number of cases. However, she suggested services such as the Traveller legal service provided by the organisation, could provide a model for how access to justice for such communities could be vindicated.

FLAC said the crisis has been exacerbated by the negative financial impact of Covid-19, the rising cost of living and the housing crisis.

Those who are marginalised and in more precarious employment are more likely to face persistent over indebtedness and stress, it says.

FLAC's annual report is being launched by Chief Justice Donal O'Donnell this morning.